Funding Source and Research Report Quality in Nutrition Practice-Related Research

PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28437

Background: The source of funding is one of many possible causes of bias in scientific research. One method of detecting potential for bias is to evaluate the quality of research reports. Research exploring the relationship between funding source and nutrition-related research report quality is limited and in other disciplines the findings are mixed.

Objective: The purpose of this study is to determine whether types of funding sources of nutrition research are associated with differences in research report quality.

Design: A retrospective study of research reporting quality, research design and funding source was conducted on 2539 peer reviewed research articles from the American Dietetic Association’s Evidence Analysis Library® database.

Results: Quality rating frequency distributions indicate 43.3% of research reports were rated as positive, 50.1% neutral, and 6.6% as negative. Multinomial logistic regression results showed that while both funding source and type of research design are significant predictors of quality ratings (χ2 = 118.99, p<0.001), the model’s usefulness in predicting overall research report quality is little better than chance. Compared to research reports with government funding, those not acknowledging any funding sources, followed by studies with University/hospital funding were more likely to receive neutral vs positive quality ratings, OR = 1.85, P <0.001 and OR = 1.54, P<0.001, respectively and those that did not report funding were more likely to receive negative quality ratings (OR = 4.97, P<0.001). After controlling for research design, industry funded research reports were no more likely to receive a neutral or negative quality rating than those funded by government sources.

Conclusion: Research report quality cannot be accurately predicted from the funding source after controlling for research design. Continued vigilance to evaluate the quality of all research regardless of the funding source and to further understand other factors that affect quality ratings are warranted.

Access the full publication.

Learn more about the ILSI North America Assembly on Scientific Integrity.