Let Them Eat Salt: Who Funds These Studies?

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There was an article this weekend in the New York Times that questions conventional wisdom about the harms of salt. I know that my husband will be delighted to read this news, as I believe that he thinks salt should be included as its own food group.

This article is another example of the mixed messages in the media regarding the health consequences of overindulging in one food or another. It is also another example where it seems the wise advice of “everything in moderation” probably applies.

I wrote a blog post last month about how difficult it is to know what health-conscious people are supposed to be eating with all of the mixed messages we get in the media.

One of my readers, Maketheworldworkbetter wrote a fantastic response that really helped me understand the complexities involved with releasing these types of study data and the complexities involved with showing that eating a certain food causes a specific health consequence. His analysis was thorough and informative, so I wanted to share it here.

This article does make me think about the ethical issues surrounding scientific studies, which is a subject I would like to understand more fully. For example, when a study comes out which questions climate change and is touted as hard science, but upon further exploration, is determined to have been funded by the oil and gas industry, should there be a requirement to disclose this information?

What do you think? Do you think the media does a good job critically analyzing studies which they report on? Should there be a requirement that the media disclose who funded a particular study? Or do you think that the public simply does not look with critical enough eyes at these types of reports? Do you look at who funded a study before deciding how much credit to give that study? Do you think that who funds a study impacts the findings of the study? Should it?

I would love to hear your thoughts. I know that this is a complex issue and that I have only briefly opened the door for a conversation here, so I hope readers will help expand the discussion. Thanks so much for reading.

35 Comments

Filed under Culture, Ethics, Fitness, Health, Policy

35 responses to “Let Them Eat Salt: Who Funds These Studies?

  1. Absolutely. Full disclosure. That’s the only way we can know if the data are legitimate. (By the way, I saw a recent study that claims 98% of the scientific community accepts the FACT of global warming — and the attendant human responsibility.) Any “facts” that are provided from sources that have a vested interest in the study are suspect. That’s a pretty safe general rule.

    • I’m with you. I did some work on smokefree laws and the tobacco industry regularly uses front groups to conduct studies to show that the harms of tobacco are not as bad as all health experts say. It seems similar to the global warming critics. I don’t think this particular study is an example of that, but the author raises the issue regarding studies that have shown that salt is bad for us, and I saw a bit of a parallel. Thanks for your comment! I shot this one off pretty quickly in between sessions at my conference, so I hope it was coherent. 🙂

  2. I respect doctors and researchers, but you have to take these studies with a grain of salt :). Specialists and researchers focus only on their particular area of specialty and expertise and like all things in life health is all about balance. Focusing too much on one organ or of the body or aspect of health may affect another and often times there is conflicting advice between specialists. One day, someone is going to put all of this together for us confused individuals :). It’s like all of the instruments have to play together for the orchestra to sound good and therefore I prefer a holistic apprach. Not sure if this actually answered your question, LOL.

    • That makes sense to me. We probably just have to use common sense and not let our eating habits swing like a pendulum with every study. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, as always! I appreciate that you take the time to read.

  3. I think that to a certain extent when someone embarks on a study, they do so with a theory of what they believe already in their mind. Automatically one will then gather data to back up their theory and dismiss data that disproves their theory as an exception or contaminated somehow – it’s human nature. I’ve done it myself 😉

    • That is what I suspected. And it raises interesting issues when we are kind of taught to believe that science is so objective. I know that I look for data to support my points when I am doing policy work. I suppose that is very similar. Thanks for your comment – and your honesty. 😉

      • I’m not a researcher! Sorry if I gave that impression 😦 It’s just what I’ve observed in certain situations – and what I do when I want to move in a certain direction and numbers and data can support that direction like you in your policy work.

        • I don’t think I thought you were a researcher, although it was late when I responded, so maybe I did! 😉 Researcher or not, it is honest to admit to a bias when you are collecting data to support your arguments!

  4. Ah yes, such is the trouble with these things. Certainly sometimes a study is funded by industries with interests in positive PR, but also the best of intentions. Often the salt industry is the only one who will fund salt research, for example. Sometimes funds are directed very specifically at distorting an issue, as is often the case with environmental concerns. Government funding and private funding may be at odds there, scientifically. Perhaps we should take it all with a grain of salt (rimshot). Better disclosure couldn’t hurt though. I put that more on the media than on the industries funding the research, however.

    • You have a point. Someone has to fund the research. But I do think finding a way to raise awareness that all studies are not equal and that some may have ulterior motives could be helpful. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Funding disclosure, yes, absolutely. But Gary Taubes is an outstanding science writer, and he makes some vital points. The N.I.H. has spent a ton of money testing the salt-is-bad hypothesis, and has failed to come up with anything conclusive. And the Cochrane Collaboration is a highly respected nonprofit organization that determines the quality of the science, excludes from their review studies poorly structured or biased, and then reviews the evidence. They’ve concluded that we just don’t know if low salt diets improve health outcomes or not. When the analysis of 167 previously published studies in which participants were randomly assigned low or high salt diets finds that those who reduced dietary salt saw an increase in cholesterol and triglycerides (both of which are obviously risk factors for heart disease), I don’t think we can dismiss it as insignificant.

    • I agree completely and think the article was fascinating mostly because conventional wisdom right now has been that salt has been bad for us for so long. I can’t remember not knowing that “fact.” This really turns that on its head which is very interesting to me and makes me think about what sort of campaign made me believe so strongly that salt was evil. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate hearing from people who understand these issues better than I do. Thanks for reading!

  6. Good on the researchers, we all need a pay packet although I think there would be better ways to spend their scientific time than debating over salt, no salt or butter v margarine and the like. Yes, what about “everything in moderation” (including studies) and it takes only cliches to put it in perspective “if it aint broke…”, “each to their own”, and for the corporates & media investment in the scientific mix “there’s a sucker born every minute” and sum it up.

    • Ha! You’re right – there seems to be a cliche for everything! Including “take it with a grain of salt” as other commentors have noted.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  7. I believe that when the media gives the results of a study, it should also give the name of the organization who made the study in the first place. Cedibility is everything. However, there are some studies that are very biased, and are not worth their salt…no pun intended. I believe that we all should know the facts about the people who are behind the study. That way, perhaps we can make a more informed decision of the study’s results.

    • Absolutely. I think a lot of people just trust that whatever studies they read about n the news must be credible, but that is not always the case. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Yes, there should be full disclosure. I have learned to do what i think is right for me. I tried the yo-yo study way of doing things and it doesn’t appear that my best interest is taken into consideration. My feeling is someone is benefiting from the study, and I would like to know who that “somebody” is…that info is a game changer.

    • Yes, that does seem to be the best way to go. It’s too bad, because I like staying on top of the latest studies, but it does seem to make sense not to change what I eat too dramatically based on them. Thanks for your comment!

  9. It’s so confusing when you hear one day coffee is good for you and the next it’s not. One day a glass of red wine is good for you and the next women should absolutely never, under any circumstances drink alcohol! *Palm to head Enjoyed reading this and seeing other folks are “awake” to this!

  10. I know for a fact that people with Ménière’s disease can’t consume sodium, because it makes something in their ears swell up (don’t ask me what organ exactly because I can’t really say), leading to hearing loss, so at least in their case, the news on the perils of salt consumption is true. I know this because many of my friends and family members have this disease.

    Otherwise, the motto “everything in moderation” should work just fine and that is what the media should focus on, instead of just raising alerts every week on every single thing we consume, without really telling us where they are getting their data from and who’s paying for these studies.

    • Yes. It seems that that is what makes this so complex. It is hard to make generalizations to the entire population and show that something specific we eat causes problems. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment!

  11. I think we just mostly have use our common sense in our food choices.

    • Thanks for your comment! That does seem to be the best approach! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment!!

      • My pleasure. It’s really contradicting sometime to hear the data on all kind of researches – ‘Don’t eat eggs – they raise the level of cholesterol’ , then from other source: “Eat eggs every day – they are great source of protein’, and so on… But mostly – it’s just different for different people. The food that is making me gain weight, won’t make you heavier a bit, and vise versa… We just have to listen to our body… or – to our doctor (if God forbid, it comes to that).

  12. Thanks for the reference here! (I’m a bit behind in my blogging due to a conference in Germany) I’m really glad you’re bringing up this topic and stimulating good debate – it’s so tricky to deal with the confusing messages without losing all faith in science! Yes, full disclosure is essential, but it is not enough. There are still forces (media attention, personal ambition, perception biases) that cause problems with scientific results even when there is no one with an outside agenda. And yet we are where we are today (low infant mortality, long lifespans, stable food supply) in large part because the scientific process works in the long run!

    • Good point. But it is probably hard to directly correlate those things with these studies for all the reasons you taught me earlier. 🙂 I am jealous that you were at aa conference in Germany! Thanks for your comment!

  13. Pingback: Are Organic Food Standards a Hoax? The Green-Washing of America | newsofthetimes

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