Research funded by the alcohol-producing industry does not show different results on health effects

This is the conclusion of researchers at the Beer Knowledge Institute and Human Nutrition.

The researchers published their findings in Advances in Nutrition.

There is much criticism on health research funding by the industries. Particularly in the domains of the pharmaceutical industry and nutrition research. ‘Both researchers and laymen question whether they can trust the results and wonder if the studies are independent’, says Van Soest. ‘Previous studies have shown that research funded by the pharmaceutical industry more frequently showed positive effects of the sponsor’s products than studies funded by means not pertaining to the industry. A similar trend is visible in nutrition research, for example, on the health effects of drinks containing sugar.’


Funding by the industry could lead to a bias, which could influence the outcomes of the research. For example, because negative results may not be published, or because the results are embellished. Van Soest and her colleagues investigated whether this was also the case in research funded by the alcohol industry.

Previous studies have shown that such research more frequently showed positive effects of the sponsor’s products

The researchers based their investigation on a total of 386 observational studies that are used as a basis for the international alcohol guidelines, in which the effect of moderate alcohol consumption was studied. These studies were conducted on such issues as the association between the consumption of alcohol and the development of cardiovascular diseases, cancer or type 2 diabetes. Of these studies, 21 (just over 5 per cent) were funded by the alcohol industry. ‘This surprised us’, Van Soest says. ‘We had expected a much larger percentage.’ The remaining 309 studies (eighty per cent) were financed from other sources, and of 56 studies (14.5 per cent) the source of the funding was unknown, even after the researchers involved were questioned. Information on possible conflicts of interest was reported in  71 cases (18.4 per cent), of which two cases showed this to be the case for the alcohol industry. The remaining 315 studies did not volunteer this information.  

We had expected a larger portion of research to be funded by the industry

Same results

The researchers saw no correlation between the outcomes of the studies and the source of their funding. ‘We saw that research on the effect of moderate alcohol consumption and mortality showed the same results, regardless of whether or not the alcohol industry funded them. This also applied to other health effects that were studied. It would seem that the alcohol industry has not attempted to thwart negative results. However, a critical approach to research remains important.

This is the first explorative research, and we have only considered observational studies. These are studies in which a large group of people are observed, and possible links are revealed. For example: is there a link between a daily glass of alcohol and cancer? We have not taken intervention studies into consideration, where the effect of an intervention is tested. For example: what effect does a normal and a zero alcohol beer have on your blood pressure.’

Beer Knowledge Institute

The research conducted by Van Soest and her colleagues was funded by the Beer Knowledge Institute, which is financed by the Dutch Brewers. ‘We are aware that this may appear not to be independent’, says Van Soest. ‘That is why we have collaborated closely with a professor of Human Nutrition and aimed for the greatest possible transparency in what and how we conducted our investigation. In the almost 100-page thick appendix, all the details of the research are provided, so that readers can look things up and reproduce the study if they want to.’

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