Alcohol Research Funding: Leads to Biased Findings?

I. Potential Problem

Industry funding of research can sometimes bias findings. That was the case of tobacco company support of smoking research. Many people are concerned about alcohol research funding. They think research on health effects of moderate drinking by producers may bias the findings. That’s a very sound concern.

alcohol research fundingHere’s a good example of that fear. A federal agency (NIAAA) asked for funds from alcohol producers. The agency wanted to study the health effects of moderate drinking. It planned a ten-year study. It would study tens of thousands of people. 

But critics said that financial support from producers was a conflict of interest. They said that it would bias the findings. So the study was cancelled.

What’s the evidence about industry support of alcohol research funding?

II. The Study: Alcohol Research Funding

alcohol research fundingResearchers looked for any impact of funding on study findings. They focused on the health effects of moderate drinking. They used analyses that included observational studies. They studied 14 health outcomes. These included all-cause death, dementia, type 2 diabetes, several heart diseases, and cancers.

There were 386 observational studies. Twenty-one (5.4%) were funded by alcohol producers, 309 studies (80.1%) were not. And for 56 studies (14.5%) the funding source was unknown.

The researchers used subgroup analyses and meta regressions. Yet they could find no meaningful effects of funding source on study results. In fact, there are differences. But the beneficial effects of drinking are usually stronger in the studies not supported by the alcohol industry.

Thus, alcohol research funding by the industry does not appear to bias research findings in favor of drinking.

III. Resources: Alcohol Research Funding