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Surge in alcohol-industry funded research may be cause for concern

Researchers at the University of York have found that the alcohol industry is increasingly funding academic research into the impacts of alcohol consumption. Many of these studies make claims about the health benefits of alcohol.

Since 2009, there has been a 56-percent increase in research funded by alcohol companies or affiliated organizations, according to the study.

The sponsorship of scientific research by the alcohol industry raises concerns over the potential for conflicts of interest and selective reporting of outcomes, explained the researchers. The team discovered just under 13,500 studies that were directly or indirectly funded by the alcohol industry.

Study co-author Dr. Su Golder is an expert in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York. 

“Our study identified a worrying trend. While there has been a steep decline in the alcohol industry conducting its own research on health at the same time there has been an increase in the alcohol industry funding such research, by providing financial support to researchers or via alcohol related organizations,” said Dr. Golder.

“This allows alcohol companies to exploit a ‘transparency loophole’ as many people assume these organizations are charities and don’t realize the connection to the industry.”

“While there are many legitimate fields for research funded by the alcohol industry – such as studies into ingredients and environmental impacts – their involvement in health research is particular cause for concern. Many of these studies make claims about the protective cardiovascular effects of alcohol and suggest that substance abuse problems are down to individual choices rather than industry behaviors.”

Furthermore, the researchers believe that the level of involvement by the alcohol industry in scientific research uncovered in their investigation is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

“While researchers are meant to declare funders in peer reviewed research publications this often doesn’t happen and we don’t get the level of transparency we should have,” said study co-author Professor Jim McCambridge from York’s Department of Health Sciences.

“It is well known that by sponsoring research pharmaceutical and tobacco companies successfully conspired to subvert the scientific evidence-base in order to influence policy for decades and so, while more research is needed, the scale, nature and breadth of the alcohol industry’s influence on scientific research provides cause for concern.”

“While alcohol companies may claim they are carrying out a civic duty through their funding of research, these are studies that independent academics would be much better placed to conduct.”

The study is published in the European Journal of Public Health.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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