Whether or not the source of funding of a study automatically leads to bias in its reporting and interpretation of results is an important topic. When assessing the relation between the consumption of alcoholic beverages and health outcomes, there is the argument that funding of research by the alcoholic beverage industry can lead to sponsorship bias.
The aim of the current study was to evaluate the sponsorship bias in observational alcohol studies by focusing on various health outcomes.
Industry funding of health research has been a topic for many years. Because of the potential sponsorship bias, it is argued that industry funding in scientific research is undesirable. It has also been suggested that the involvement of the alcohol beverage industry in scientific research could affect the objectivity of independent scientists and the integrity of science. The purpose of the current study was to determine whether the outcome depended on the funding source. The authors used data from seven recent meta-analyses (that are the basis of several international alcohol drinking guidelines) with information from 386 observational studies which examined the relation between moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages and a large number of health outcomes, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and mortality.
The authors report that 5.4% of the studies had some support from the alcohol beverage industry, while 80.1% were funded by governments or other sources. Most importantly, the results of moderate drinking on almost all health outcomes (including cardiovascular diseases and cancer) were essentially the same whether the study was funded by the beverage industry or not. Where there were slight differences, the results from non-alcohol industry sources tended to have more favorable health results from moderate drinking than did those sponsored by the industry.
The authors concluded: “Only a small proportion of observational studies in meta-analyses, referred to by several international alcohol guidelines, are funded by the alcohol beverage industry. Based on this selection of observational studies, the relation between moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages and different health outcomes does not seem to be related to the funding source.”
Comments by WIC expert:
Prof. Ramon Estruch, scientific expert of the Wine Information Council stated: “This is an impressive analysis comparing results obtained from studies funded or not funded by the industry. The number of studies funded by the alcohol industry is very low. The conclusion is that the results are in favor of the protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption on health and are independent of the type of funding received. The results represent important information that should be taken into account to counter many criticisms of the positive health effects of moderate drinking demonstrated in many research papers.”
Vos M et al, Exploring the influence of alcohol industry funding on observational studies on moderate alcohol consumption and health, Adv Nutr 2020, nmaa052 https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa052