Conflict of Interest

Would you trust a study about the benefits of soda funded by The Coca-Cola Company?

Probably not.

So when the National Institutes of Health ordered the halt of a $100 million, 10-year study of moderate drinking in mid-May, prevention groups – including Texans Standing Tall – applauded the move.

That’s because the controversial study was being funded in large part by the alcoholic beverage industry—Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken, and other industry giants were giving donations to a private foundation that supports the NIH. Roughly two-thirds of the funding for the study was coming from liquor and beer companies.

According to the NIH Director himself, “This particular study was set up in such a way that the funding is largely coming from the beverage industry and there is evidence that NIH employees assisted in recruiting those funds for this study in a way that would violate our usual policies.”

The New York Times reported that the study was being billed as the kind that “could change the American diet, a huge clinical trial that might well deliver all the medical evidence needed to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The problem is that the people being billed – liquor company representatives – had a heavily vested interest in the outcome of the study.

We all stand to lose since results skewed in the industry’s favor would likely promote and encourage unhealthy drinking behaviors. Ultimately, this would negatively affect individuals’ health and public health.

The potential damage a study like this could have on prevention is tremendous. For decades, prevention organizations have been working at the forefront to reduce excessive alcohol use and counter the increasing normalization of consumption – especially among young people. In recent years, we’ve had to work overtime to combat the rise in marketing and promotion by the alcohol industry, which has slowly convinced us that alcohol consumption is good for our health.

A study like this one would make it more challenging to debunk these dangerous myths, reversing decades of important work in prevention, awareness, and education. Critics also worry the research would not fully capture the harms and risks associated with drinking. Another concern? No other long-term trial “had ever asked participants to drink, much less drink every day.” With existing research showing that drinking daily can have negative health effects, this study seems ill-conceived and potentially dangerous. (Keep in mind, this was a long-term study that was supposed to include about 7,000 people drinking daily over the course of several years.)

Because the study has only been suspended, there is still a possibility it will resume. But critics and advocacy groups have been vocal about the importance of stopping this study for good, and there is pressure on the NIH to distance itself from the alcohol industry after the perceived “cozying up to Big Alcohol.”

In the meantime, we will continue to monitor any news relating to the NIH study and continue working with prevention groups across Texas to dispel myths, educate the public, and reduce underage alcohol use to help create healthier, safer communities.

Want to support our efforts? You can follow us on social media, join your local coalition, make a one-time or recurring financial gift to fund our work, or contact us to learn more and get involved!