Butter Industry-Funded Study Finds Out Butter Is Bad for You
Last month, something unusual happened in the food industry.
The Danish Dairy Research Foundation, likely in hopes of boosting butter’s regard, funded a study about the popular lipid. But when the research was delivered, it didn’t exactly paint butter in a favorable light.
The study’s findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, established that even moderate levels of butter consumption could result in higher cholesterol. At the very least, the study showed that butter raises blood cholesterol levels more than alternatives such as olive oil.
So a study about butter, funded by the butter industry, found that butter is bad for you.
If that sounds unlikely, that’s because it is.
“It’s very rare for an industry-funded study to find something that goes against the interests of that industry,” said Marion Nestle, who is the Paulette Goddard professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
Nestle should know. She began collecting studies that served the interests of their sponsors earlier this year, hoping to bring more attention to what she believes is a dangerous practice. Ever since, she has flagged offending research on her blog, Food Politics, where she shares five dubious studies at a time.
Most recently, Nestle brought attention to a collection of industry-funded research that exonerated orange juice, high-fat cheese and sugar of various harms. In all, she has found 37 such self-serving studies — since March.
Before 2000, it was uncommon, if not completely unheard of, for journals to share the name of sponsors. Now it’s the norm, and Nestle says it is imperative that people pay attention. “The first thing you need to do when you read a study is figure out who paid for it,” Nestle said. “It’s very telling.”
Nestle is working on a book about the soda industry. She says its practice of funding self-serving studies is particularly troublesome and estimates that 90 percent of studies about soda that were funded by the soda industry conclude that soda isn’t all that bad for you. Among studies funded by everyone else, she said, 90 percent found that just the opposite is true.
The practice extends to foods that are healthful, too. The nut industry has been an active pursuer of self-serving research. The Almond Board of California, for instance, funded a study last year that showed that eating almonds is good for diabetics. This might be true, but there’s still a conflict of interest.
“The purpose of a lot of these studies is to show that a food is a superfood so an industry can market it,” Nestle said. “It looks like science, but it’s not. It’s business first.”