UQ researchers develop researcher toolkit for industry interaction

30 Jan 2024

University of Queensland and University of Cambridge researchers have developed a toolkit to help researchers avoid conflict of interest and reputational damage when considering engaging with the food industry.

Dr Katherine Cullerton from the School of Public Health said the toolkit could work as a guideline for heath researchers who are considering interacting with the food industry.

“While guidance on interacting with the commercial food sector exists for governments and non-government organisations and for dietary guideline development committees, no internationally agreed guidance exists for population health researchers,” Dr Cullerton said.

“Population health researchers sometimes want to interact with big industries or individual companies.

“For example, a researcher might be investigating whether display changes in a supermarket will lead to increased purchases of healthy items, or whether a restaurant charging extra for sugary drinks will impact people’s consumption habits.

“When these kinds of situations arise, researchers may need to rely on the food company to monitor sales, allow access to their data, or provide interviews  … this could lead to situations where the researcher is vulnerable to a conflict of interest or reputational damage if the appropriate steps are not taken.

“What we are hoping to achieve with our paper is to set guidance for these types of interactions.”

The guidance system and toolkit, aptly named FoRK (Food Research Risk), was developed from a systematic review of existing knowledge, an international consensus building study, and  an independently facilitated two-day workshop of international experts.

“These processes made sure our research went through a rigorous process,” Dr Cullerton said.

“We hope our efforts will help population health researchers decide if and how to interact with the food industry.

“Our toolkit can be modified to create similar guidelines for other research areas and industries as well.”

The paper titled Avoiding conflicts of interest and reputational risks associated with population research on food and nutrition: the Food Research risk (FoRK) guidance and toolkit for researchers has been published in the British Medical Journal.

Media: UQ Medicine Communications, med.media@uq.edu.au, +61 436 368 746.