NIH's Wooing of Alcohol Execs Raises Questions About Study

10-year trial paid for by the industry is expected to find that moderate drinking is a good thing
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 18, 2018 11:45 AM CDT
   (Getty/NatashaPhoto)

(Newser) – A 10-year government study now in the works is expected to reach a conclusion that smaller-scale studies have suggested is true: Moderate drinking has health benefits. The problem? Most of the $100 million study is being paid for by the world's biggest alcohol companies, including Anheuser Busch InBev and Heineken, reports the New York Times. The National Institutes of Health is adamant that the source of the funding will have zero impact on the findings of the scientists on the project, but the issue raises a host of ethical questions. The story details how scientists and a senior federal health official wooed alcohol execs at cushy resorts: They needed money for the study and "strongly suggested" that the results would end up being positive for the alcohol companies.

That's "not public health research—it's marketing," a health sciences professor at the Boston University School of Public Health tells the newspaper, after looking at slides presented to industry execs in 2014 at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. But "if anyone has any doubt whatsoever that our intent is to provide the most accurate and precise description of our findings, they are sorely mistaken," counters Dr. Kenneth Mukamal of Harvard Medical School, the lead investigator. Still, the story notes that the alcohol execs were allowed to get a sense of the trial design before it actually began and to "vet" the investigators who would be involved. (Click to read the full story, which has details on the study: Nearly 8,000 participants 50 and older will eventually take part; half will abstain from alcohol and half will be asked to have one alcoholic drink per day.)

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