Almost all the food that we eat passes through commercial companies, and whether it is through voluntary action, public pressure, or government legislation, little will change in the production, distribution and marketing of food without concerted industry action. Commercial enterprises’ primary responsibility is to maximise profit for their shareholders. Some of the actions required to improve dietary public health are likely to be at odds with this goal and may require collaboration between the food industry and dietary public health researchers. However, researchers who study diet and public health can face conflicts of interest, which may undermine their scientific integrity, if they engage with the food industry.
This area arouses strong feelings and raises many questions. This project brought together those from dietary public health research, those who understand the food industry, and policymakers with a range of perspectives on these and other questions.
Initial scoping meeting
This project built on discussions at an event held in December 2015 in Cambridge. At this meeting it was agreed that wider international consensus on these issue needed to be achieved. Details of the event, including a full report can be found here. Following this pledge to gain wider international consensus, a project was funded by the Medical Research Council to make progress with this work.
The first component of the project involved compiling all known articles or reports that outline frameworks, guidelines or principles that should be followed by dietary public health researchers when they intend to engage with or accept funding from the food industry. We reported this work in this paper:
Cullerton K, Adams J, Forouhi N, Francis O, White M. (2019) What principles should guide interactions between researchers and the food industry? Systematic scoping review of peer reviewed and grey literature. Obesity Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12851
Next, we undertook an international Delphi study to identify on which principles there is consensus. The study is reported in this paper:
Cullerton K, Adams J, Forouhi N, Francis O, White M. (2019) Building consensus on the governance of relationships between dietary public health researchers and the food industry: two stage, online, international Delphi study and a stakeholder survey. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0221250
An international workshop in 2018 then built consensus on guidelines for researchers to minimise the risks of interacting with the food industry. Download the report:
- Working towards guidance on interactions between dietary public health researchers and the food industry – Report of an international workshop, 16-17 April 2018 (pdf)
Developing a toolkit and guidance
Lastly, using the output from all stages of the research, we have developed guidance and the FoRK toolkit to support decision making by dietary public researchers when considering interacting with the food industry. This will be published shortly.
This project is supported with core funding from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, and additional funding from the Medical Research Council.
- Prof Martin White (lead investigator)
- Dr Katherine Cullerton
- Prof Jean Adams
- Prof Nita Forouhi
- Mr Oliver Francis
For questions about this project, please contact Martin White: email@example.com
Please see our Data Sharing pages for more information.