Five Questions to Ask to Analyze Health Studies

The makers of America’s trusted household brands are closer to the consumer than any other industry, and they’ve spent years building that relationship and maintaining their trust. This means relying on science — not ideology — and respecting the expertise and guidance from federal and state regulators to keep America’s food supply safe for consumers. But we’re seeing ideology masquerading as science. And there’s a huge difference between sound science and junk science, between rigorous scientific inquiry and the latest influencer’s ideas.

Foods that have had a place at our family table for decades are now being demonized by groups that provide no evidence other than their opinion — it’s ok to have an opinion, but don’t pretend that is actual science when it’s not. Even more alarming is that these false stories with no or very little in the way of scientific study could limit access to and cause avoidance of nutritious foods.

Consumers deserve facts based on sound science, rigorous scientific studies undertaken by serious professionals, to make the best choices for their and their families’ health and wellness goals. So how do we discern what to purchase when there are so many opinion pieces flooding the information zone with views — often disguised as news stories — on what should be considered “good” and “bad” to eat and drink.

It’s critical to be mindful of what you’re reading: there will always be someone making a justification for their opinion without possessing the professional, educational or other credentials supporting their claims. Even more alarming: those who offer their take on studies that provide incomplete, inaccurate or inconclusive information. So, what determines whether the information is credible or just more noise in the ether?

Five Questions to Ask to Analyze Health Studies:

  1. What are the authors’ credentials?
  2. Have they published or bylined peer-reviewed articles?
  3. Are they recognized as a legitimate expert in the subject matter on which they are providing information?
  4. Who paid for the research and who conducted it?
  5. Is the research intended to find the truth or to support the outcome that the funders want — what are the motivations of the study?

The basis for any research study should be clearly explained, upfront, in any publication. Legitimate, scientifically rigorous studies – especially those on subjects connected to health and nutrition take time and significant resources and should consider any uncontrolled environments and underlying health conditions of the test subjects.

Our standard has and continues to be that set by the federal government – we look to the FDA to provide guidance on products both before they go to market and after they are on store shelves. We also know the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — which is the authoritative body responsible for making food and beverage recommendations for American consumers — expressed “serious concerns” over studies attempting to conflate consumption of so-called “ultra-processed” foods with negative health outcomes. Moreover, there is no agreed-upon scientific definition of “ultra-processed,” so studies seeking to draw some conclusion around them are nebulous and not steeped in science.

It’s important to stay vigilant against thinly veiled efforts to push points of view based on politics and ideology. Sound science will continue to be the North Star for America’s food companies so we can continue to make the products consumers choose and the brands they trust.