February 11, 2014

Study Finds Possible Bias in Reviews of Studies Linking Sugar Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain

Systematic reviews that were sponsored by, or had conflicts of interest with, food or beverage companies were five times more likely to report no positive association between consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and weight gain or obesity, according to a recent study.

“Our findings serve to draw attention to possible inaccuracies in scientific evidence from research funded by the food industry,” the study authors concluded.

The study, published December 31, 2013, looked at 17 systematic reviews of the influence of sugar sweetened beverages on weight gain and obesity. Twelve of the reviews focused on adults, children, and adolescent populations; four on children and adolescents; and one on adults only.

“Systematic reviews identify all the research on a given topic using predefined criteria,” the authors wrote. “In an ideal world, systematic reviews provide access to all the available evidence on specific exposure–disease associations, but publication bias related to authors' conflicts of interest may affect the reliability of the conclusions of such studies.”

“It might be worthwhile,” they wrote, “to further explore the implications of biased reviews, with their consequent dissemination of flawed information to public health policy makers and medical practitioners.”