From food environments to food marketing: the science behind diets

Expert panel informs what we “should, and could, and can do” about dieting

From food environments to food marketing: the science behind diets

When trying to find the silver bullet diet, a few questions may pop into one’s mind. “According to whom? To us? To science? What is science?” asked Jessica Mudry, an assistant professor in Professional Communication at Ryerson University. She spoke about diets at a Royal Canadian Institute of Science panel titled, “New Year, New You: The Science of Healthy Eating.” The event took place January 26 at the JJR MacLeod Auditorium at the University of Toronto, and touched on subjects ranging from diet fads to how they tie into mental health.

Resolutions about finally getting healthy easily become quite puzzling. “Monday, eggs are good for you; Tuesday, [eggs are] not so good for you,” she explained. To make things worse, she continued, “comprehensive diets are even more confounding,” due to how consumers receive mixed messages all the time on what diets constitute healthy eating.

Diet fads and what our food eats

Amy Botta, a postdoctoral nutritional researcher at York University, explained currently popular diets, namely the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, and veganism. She noted that such diets “have a place for certain pediatric conditions, but in terms of weight loss, the evidence is actually kind of mixed.”

Evidence is not only mixed, but lacking in quantity. Botta added that “we need a lot more research in order to be able to decide exactly what diets are appropriate.” Additionally, the vegan diet may decrease the overall risk for cardiovascular disease, but people who follow the diet have a 20 per cent risk increase in strokes, while also lacking many vital amino acids that are only obtainable through animal products.

It’s also important to consider what our food is eating. Farmed fish lack 75 per cent of the omega-3 fatty acids that are present in wild-caught fish due to the simple fact that farmed fish are fed corn, a food which gives them unhealthy amounts of the wrong fatty acids.

Botta argued that “it’s not just about understanding the diets; it’s understanding our food system, and… specifically what the inputs are into that.”

Population health and food policy

Our food environment is “the environment in which people make food choices,” as defined by Laura Vergeer, a PhD candidate at U of T’s Department of Nutritional Sciences who was at the panel. Food choices are influenced by nutrition facts tables and ingredients — two mandatory components of food packaging in Canada which aren’t always user-friendly, as Vergeer noted.

She highlighted countries with “good practice food environment policies,” such as front-of-package labelling for products that don’t meet certain nutritional standards and restricted marketing to children.

“These types of policies can prompt food companies to reformulate their products to make them healthier, so that they meet the criteria to be marketed to children, or so that they’re not required to display these front-of-pack symbols,” she said.

Although Canada has not yet successfully passed such regulations, Ontario has passed the Healthy Menu Choices Act for displaying calorie contents on the menus of fast-food chains, and by 2022 food products in Canada will not be able to contain artificially produced trans fats.

The “psychological-biological bind” of diets and eating disorders 

Lindsay Bodell, an assistant professor at Western University’s Department of Psychology, was also present at the panel, and discussed her research regarding dieting and its ties to mental illness.

Beyond social media pressures to lose weight and obtain certain body ideals, the complexity of eating disorders include psychological and biological components. Bodell’s research focuses on “what’s happening when someone’s losing weight” — which is known as a ‘weight -suppressed state’ — and its impact on eating disorders.

Drastic weight changes are associated with negative eating-related thoughts and behaviours. Within clinical samples, this is a predictor of poor response to medical treatment. Leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissues that provides feelings of satiety, is decreased during weight; this is then associated with binge-eating symptoms.

“Our psychology is saying we need to lose more weight, but then when we are losing weight, our biology is pushing us up in the other direction,” she said. “And now individuals are stuck in what we call this psychological-biological bind that’s really contributing to maintaining these disordered eating behaviours.”   

Amidst the unbalanced, chaotic life of a student, trying to eat a balanced diet can be difficult — but don’t fear. Meal prepping to set yourself up for the whole week and making sure to find time to enjoy your meals with others on a regular basis can make way for healthier and more enjoyable eating.

Healthy snacks to start the summer

A guide to snacking during crunch time

Healthy snacks to start the summer

You just sat down at your desk, ready to study, when the familiar feeling of hunger starts resonating in your stomach. To save you the time of thinking about what to eat, here are seven healthy study snacks to keep you well-fed and motivated. Keep in mind your own food allergies and dietary restrictions when using this guide!

Walnuts are a great ‘superfood’ and for a good reason. They may not look like it, but they pack a punch when it comes to delivering healthy omega-3 fatty acid. Eating a handful offers potential benefits of improved memory and overall brain health. In fact, a 2015 study by the University of California Los Angeles showed that participants who consumed walnuts showed significant improvements in cognitive functions.

Green veggies, like kale or spinach, are your best friends for adding vitamins or minerals into your diet. Pair the veggies with hummus or blend it with some avocado and other fruits for a rich green smoothie.

Berries are a wonderful choice to improve your eye health. Exam season can be a strain in many aspects, so down a bowl of blueberries or strawberries to keep your vision in check. If eating berries alone sounds a bit boring, add them to oatmeal or Greek yogurt for a snack that is filling and nutritious.

Chia seed pudding is the way to go for satisfying a sweet tooth without packing on the pounds. Although they are small in size, chia seeds contain lots of fibre and nutrients. What does that translate to, you ask? Getting the fuel your body needs and staying full for longer, all without excessive calories.

Hard-boiled eggs are a guilt-free way to be rid of hunger during late-night studying sessions. They are high in protein, which means staying full for longer. Egg yolk also contains choline, which helps improve focus and memory. Two birds with one stone, ain’t it?

Edamame is a great option for those who want a savoury snack that is low in calories. If you are unfamiliar with the term, edamame refers to immature green soybeans. The beans contain many nutrients such as iron and don’t take long to prepare, so you can keep your tummy happy without sacrificing study time.

Baked zucchini chips come in and save the day when the craving for chips hits. Add your favourite seasoning and pop them in the oven. As you chow down, have peace of mind knowing these tasty crisps contain vitamin C, antioxidants, and fibre to aid in digestion.

Healthy eating, active living: Optimizing Nutrition Through Exercise

Walk your dog daily, even if you don’t have one

Healthy eating, active living: Optimizing Nutrition Through Exercise

The Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE) hosted leading experts at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 5 to present in the Optimizing Nutrition Through Exercise panel to discuss the relationship between physical activity and nutrition.

The event presented a combination of time-efficient exercise strategies with simple evidence-based dietary changes that can help busy professionals and active individuals improve their health and performance.

Assistant Professors Daniel Moore and Jenna Gillen of KPE translated their research insights into practical strategies that you can use to improve your health.

Moore said that as your day progresses, the most efficient way to stimulate your muscles is to eat moderate protein-containing meals, at around 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of your body mass. Additional levels of protein do not build muscle further.

To determine the right amount of protein to consume in a meal, Moore said that “animal-based protein might be the size of your palm,” or, for plant-based protein, he recommends “half a cup or about half your fist.” If you consume more dense protein-containing meals, the excess protein will instead be stored as an energy reserve for later.

Where Moore’s research focuses on “how physical activity improves our body’s ability to use dietary protein,” his “Move It to Use It” principle suggests that muscle diminishes with inactivity and grows with exercise.

It’s important to “engineer more physical activity and less sitting into your lifestyle to keep your muscle sensitive.” For example Moore suggests walking your dog daily — even if you don’t have one. This means you should get outside and be active.

Gillen’s research, on the other hand, is focused on carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Gillen has three take-home strategies for optimizing blood sugar with exercise. The first two revolve around eating habits; she suggests exercising “after eating carbohydrates to lower the post-meal rise in blood glucose [and] perform[ing] repeated exercise ‘snacks’ to lower blood glucose throughout the day.”

Exercise “snacking” means incorporating short yet frequent bouts of physical activity throughout your day. Studies presented by Gillen show that two-minute walks every 30 minutes is an effective way to break up prolonged periods of sitting and more effective than a 30-minute morning walk for young adults.

If you’re someone who sits a lot at work or school and can’t get up to go for frequent walks, try activity break squats — no equipment or gym membership required. Gillen and Moore are currently testing this strategy in the lab, which includes 15 repeated chair stands in the span of one minute.

The third and final strategy Gillen recommends is to “maintain an active lifestyle to help manage blood glucose on days you don’t exercise.”

These strategies are not just useful to those with diabetes. Gillen said that “seemingly healthy adults can have spikes in blood glucose following meals, too.” Besides, you can never be too healthy, can you?

Toronto Raptors and Gymnastics Canada performance nutritionist and sports dietitian Jennifer Sygo also spoke at the event. She discussed orthorexia nervosa, which is an eating disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food. This unhealthy fixation on righteous eating can be destructive to health and wellbeing.

Sygo compared the nutritional habits for elite athletes versus the general population. Elite athletes make up “0.00018% of the world’s population,” according to Sygo’s presentation.

Sygo explained that nutrition can be converted to speed in two ways: aerobic metabolism, which “produces more energy, but does so more slowly,” and anaerobic, which “produces less energy, but does so quickly.”

Athletes often struggle to eat enough calories to meet high energy needs. For example, Tour de France cyclists require between 5,000–7,000 calories per stage, which is why they need low-nutrient, dense foods to ensure good energy availability and support the high demands of training. For the general population, Sygo said that a high-fibre and less-processed foods is optimal.

Loneliness and isolation associated with malnutrition

Cooking and eating with others can result in a healthier diet

Loneliness and isolation associated with malnutrition

The updated version of Canada’s Food Guide incorporates a section pertaining to healthy eating habits, listing “involve others in planning and preparing meals” and “eat meals with others” as behaviours to integrate into your diet. Benefits of such communal experiences include learning new skills, implementing healthy foods, and spending quality time together.

Released on January 28, the updates to the guide come after a Canadian Press article tells the story of Flo Elliot, an elderly woman who lost her appetite after her husband passed away.

However, the association between loneliness and poor nutrition is not an uncommon finding. Social context and other individuals are influential to our eating habits. Evidence of this is reflected in our altered family relationships.

Due to location differences, increased screen time, variable schedules, and other external factors, families find themselves not spending enough time eating together. “Over the last several generations, we’ve seen [that] family units are not as tight knitted as they used to be,” said Dr. Carol Greenwood, Professor Emeritus of U of T’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

A consequence of unhealthy eating is malnutrition, which can lead to fatigue, a lack of concentration, and depression, among other things. In general, Greenwood recommends social eating, “whether it’s through joining a community club or taking the initiative of having a group of friends where you share meals.”  

However, there are many factors contributing to social isolation and loneliness when eating, such as mental illness, mobility issues, or poverty.

In particular, vulnerable populations include those diagnosed with depression. Clinical depression is highly prevalent, affecting about 4.7 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older.

In fact, an alteration of eating habits is so symptomatic of depression that there is an association between depressive symptoms and emotional eating, whether in a loss of appetite or a spike in it.

Another study found that social isolation when eating is a risk factor for depression. This is important as “it really becomes a little bit more reliant on the individual to recognize the need to maintain some sort of a social structure and to be able to initiate that. So as people become more and more isolated, the initiation becomes more and more challenging,” said Greenwood.

Isolation and malnutrition is also apparent in older populations. In 2015, the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force found that 45 per cent of adults around 50 and older who were admitted to hospital were malnourished. Researchers have also found that social isolation and loneliness are two factors contributing to malnutrition in the elderly population.

Greenwood suggests that families and areas with elderly members “look for community centres that will attract older adults to come so they can maintain that social network.”

“A healthy pattern of eating, irrespective of age, I think is exactly what we need,” said Greenwood. “It is important for the village to really look out for one another.”

What Varsity Blues athletes eat: Sandakie Ekanayake

Rugby athlete Sandakie Ekanayake reveals what fuels her busy schedule

What Varsity Blues athletes eat: Sandakie Ekanayake

Food equates to energy in an athlete’s world. Sandakie Ekanayake crafts her diet so that she can balance her athletic endeavours as a lock for the Varsity Blues women’s rugby team and a member of the Pom Team.

As most rugby games take place in the afternoon, Ekanayake’s main focus before a game is breakfast. Tea is a must in the morning for Ekanayake, game day or not, and is the beginning of her daily routine. Ekanayake says that her morning nutritional focus is on carbs, protein, and fats. She likes to begin the day with breakfast foods like eggs and bacon or sausages.

As a commuter, Ekanayake’s quick on the go snack is peanut butter and jelly. The blend of protein and carbs is important to her diet.

Following her mantra of balance, dinner the night before the game is just as important. Consuming carbs is key, so Ekanayake sticks to rice or pasta. Her biggest stress though is to stay hydrated.

Staying hydrated is crucial for an athlete’s body, and so is getting protein before a game. Prior to the start of a game, she tries to consume simple carbs like a protein bar.

Her eating habits aren’t too regimented, but she does her best to stay constant in season and off season by eating healthy year round.

Like many of us, Ekanayake has a sweet tooth and her cheats are sweets. She believes it’s important to have a healthy relationship with food.

Because of her increased training and field time, “the biggest thing [in season] is just eating more frequently and eating more food,” Ekanayake says.

According to Ekanayake, she is “not too strict in season” as the main importance for her “is simply eating more food so that [she’s] eating enough to replenish what’s being used up.”

“It’s easy to lose energy when you’re doing that much work,” she adds.

From lifts, to practice, and always being on the go, “Staying hydrated and staying fueled is not as easy as you would think… given the schedule of being a student athlete and you having other commitments on the side as well,” Ekanayake admits.

One thing that can severely alter a diet is recovering from an injury. Ekanayake speaks to this as she recovers from a recent back injury.

“It’s very hard to change your diet after injury,” Ekanayake says. “I was still eating like a high performance athlete even though I didn’t need anywhere near the same amount of energy.”

While she admits that it’s “easy to fall off the wagon here,” she says that she tries to avoid inflammatory foods as she recovers.

Being adequately fueled, maintaining a healthy routine, and knowing which foods provide essential vitamins and protein is crucial to Ekanayake’s success not only on the field, but also in the classroom.

U of T alum’s startup offered $150,000 Dragons’ Den deal

Leila Keshavjee’s ice pops pave path to sweet future

U of T alum’s startup offered $150,000 Dragons’ Den deal

U of T Kinesiology alum Leila Keshavjee’s startup has landed a sweet deal.

On the recently aired season 13 premiere of reality television show Dragons’ Den, Keshavjee’s healthy ice popsicle startup Happy Pops was offered a $150,000 investment and access to a business accelerator in exchange for 30 per cent equity.

“It was definitely a little more equity than I said I wanted to give up initially going in,” says Keshavjee. “[But] I went with my gut… I have this offer now and I think it’s 100 per cent the best fit.”

Happy Pops was born out of Keshavjee’s desire to create a product that was “a healthier alternative to what’s already out there but still tasted good.”

Through her Kinesiology degree, Keshavjee learned about nutrition and the many ways that sugar can be hidden on food labels. “I wanted to have a product [with ingredients] that anybody could pronounce… There was no hiding.”

While still an undergraduate student at U of T, Keshavjee enrolled in IMC200 — Innovation and Entrepreneurship and IMC390 — Internship in New Venture, where she learned about what it takes to start a business.

Later, she sought advice and support from U of T’s Impact Centre, which she credits with supporting her entrepreneurial adventure. “When you’re running a business, you’re often alone in the startup phase… The opportunities to interact with other entrepreneurs… is one of the most valuable things. You can learn so much from each other.”


She started her ice pop business after graduating from U of T in 2016, when, with funding from her father, she purchased an ice pop business that had a 1,000-square-foot commercial kitchen but no retail products.

“When I started, I made all the popsicles myself for the first month. So I used to cut the fruit, blend it all, put it in the popsicle mould, seal them, wash all the dishes and all that.” Now that the business has grown, Keshavjee’s role is primarily focused on sales and marketing.

She describes running her own business and building a brand as filled with constant ups and downs. “You could be cold-calling for days. Or, someone could reach out to you and say, ‘Hey, I wanna have you in my store’… Getting people to know who you are as a brand and trust you hasn’t been easy but it’s definitely been a great learning experience.”

On the encouragement of her friends, Keshavjee auditioned for Dragons’ Den in Toronto, which was among the 38 stops the show made across the country. She waited for four hours among many other worthy businesses. She describes the audition process as intense: “You really just have to block out everybody around you and focus on your pitch.”

After being placed on the standby list, she was called and given three days’ notice to appear on Dragons’ Den. She had to prepare her presentation over that weekend, making sure it was entertaining and that the product looked perfect.

Going into the den, Keshavjee was nervous. “I was nauseous, I was sleep-deprived, I was excited… I [had] watched this show for so long.” However, she relaxed when she saw that the investors liked her product.

During her 45 minutes of filming, four of the six investors made offers for Happy Pops.

Keshavjee made her final decision in about a minute. Originally seeking $50,000 for 10 per cent equity, she is finalizing an offer from Arlene Dickinson, whom she knew that she wanted to work with going in, of $150,000 for 30 per cent equity.

To other students looking to start their own businesses, Keshavjee says, “Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid to take a risk, especially while you’re young. Now is the time to try these things.”

Bugs: the food of the future?

Crickets may be the new chicken

Bugs: the food of the future?

Would you like some crickets with your guac? It may not be long before you see six-legged creatures sharing menu real estate with beef and pork. With the global human population set to reach nine billion by 2050, experts say that conventional protein sources will soon be insufficient to feed everyone. Insects have been proposed by several groups as a protein alternative due to their high nutritional content and economic and environmental benefits.

Over 2,000 insect species are edible; the most commonly consumed species include beetles, caterpillars, wasps, bees, and ants, followed by grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. Insects are already frequently consumed and are considered a delicacy in 113 countries. In fact, chapulines, a type of grasshopper, are a national dish in Mexico.

Nutritional composition is highly varied among insect species. Within a species, it depends on the stage of metamorphosis, the origin of the insect, and how the insect is prepared. Most edible insects meet the essential protein and energy requirements for human consumption, and they also contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.

The Nutrient Value Score (NVS) is a tool used to evaluate the nutritional content of food based on energy, protein, fat, and eight micronutrients. A 2016 study used NVS and found that palm weevil larvae and mealworms were significantly healthier than both beef and chicken. The study also revealed that the median iron content of crickets and honeybees were 180 and 850 per cent greater than beef, respectively.

Eating insects may also benefit gut microbiome. Gut microbiota must consume prebiotics, a type of non-digestible fibre, to grow efficiently. The exoskeletons of insects are rich in prebiotic fibre, and they can even be crushed to a powder and added to salad dressings and shakes as a protein and fibre booster.

The attraction of insects as an alternative protein source goes beyond just their nutritional benefits. Compared to conventional livestock, farming insects emits fewer greenhouse gases, requires less land, and causes less water pollution. Insects that are usually considered pests can be farmed for human consumption, which may reduce the use of pesticides for agriculture and alleviate the financial burden of pest control for farmers.

There are even economic benefits: 70 per cent of livestock production costs involve producing feed for animals. Feed conversion efficiency is the measure of an animal’s ability to convert their feed mass into body mass. Insects tend to have higher feed conversion efficiencies than conventional meats. Another 2016 study found that the house cricket has twice the feed conversion efficiency of chickens, four times that of pigs, and 12 times that of cattle.

However, the consumption of insects does not come without drawbacks. Some insects produce toxic compounds and contain heavy metals that can transfer to humans upon consumption. Many insects also have more sodium and saturated fat than conventional meats, which can increase the chance of coronary heart disease. The processing and storage methods for mass insect production are still being investigated.

Despite these drawbacks, consuming insects may be the best alternative protein source in a rapidly growing world. Their high nutrient and protein content make insects an attractive option for regions with high food insecurity and malnourishment. As traditional meat sources face increasing environmental, social, and economic pressures, the choice to eat insects may soon become a necessity.

Greased palms and greasy food

Private industry influences in the nutritional and pharmaceutical sciences need more transparency

Greased palms and greasy food

In 1994, political satirist Christopher Buckley released Thank You for Smoking, a farcical account narrating the woes of tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor that was later adapted into a critically acclaimed film. The twin works accomplished more than simple entertainment. They showcased the inner workings of ‘Big Tobacco’ and the manners in which private industries alter public perception of scientific research.

Although we may imagine ourselves in 2017 to be better informed via the internet of possible corporate chicanery, there are still many ways in which private industries, like Naylor, “filter” the truth.

However, all of this begs the question: why is private funding a concern? The empirical answer is that the source of a research study’s finances may very well bias its conclusions. In one paper, researchers discovered that out of 206 articles on the health effects of non-alcoholic beverages, an industry-backed paper was more than seven times more likely to have a favourable conclusion than a paper with no industry funding.

Much like cigarettes in past decades, junk foods are one of the main comforting or relaxing vices we turn to. And, like their predecessor, there is a scientific consensus that junk foods are harmful to one’s health. Thus, as one might expect, the titans of the junk food industry have spent vast amounts of money funding nutritional research that they hope will either vindicate their products or discover some hitherto-unknown benefit to consumption in large quantities.

A recent target is the US National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health study. The study will measure a sample group’s cardiovascular health as they consume 15 g of alcohol once a day for 90 months. The results will be compared to a control group that has stayed sober for the same period.

Although it is a publicly funded organization, the NIH was unable to obtain financial backing from the US Congress to carry out the study, forcing it to look for private backers. Unfortunately, this has led to the dubious arrangement of 67 million USD being provided by a cabal composed of companies Anheuser-Busch InBev, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Heineken, and Carlsberg — all among the largest producers of alcoholic beverages in the world.

Some private entities don’t stop at funding otherwise unaffiliated scientists. For organizations with the means and finances, it is not unheard of to create an entirely new corporate branch or private laboratory dedicated to the research of their choice. Frequently, these labs operate solely for the purposes of research and development of new products, such as Google’s Verily Life Science, which is currently developing smart contact lenses.

Other times, scientists research the health benefits and shortfalls of already existing products. A prime example is Mars, Inc.’s Center for Cocoa Health Science, dedicated to unravelling the multifaceted mysteries of the cocoa bean, since its inception in 2012. Mars, Inc. has published studies in over 140 peer-reviewed academic journals since the early 1980s.

In 2013, one paper analyzed industry and non-industry funded studies on the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain. They found that industry-funded papers were five times more likely to determine that there was no link.

Furthermore, there is evidence that industry-backed research not only yields biased theoretical results, but it may distract from effective applications as well. A study found that randomized controlled trials proposed by researchers funded by private companies were less than half as likely than independent researchers to propose a change in diet as a method to combat obesity.

All of this points to a need for greater transparency from researchers. “The funding, research, study design, data analysis, manuscript writing, and publication — all of which are part of the process and all require full transparency,” said Dr. Mary R. L’Abbé, Chair of U of T’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. “Not all should be controlled by the funder… Once the study is funded, its conduct, analysis, and publication are based on the study results, not the funder’s needs or objectives.”

But there are more links in the experiment-to-announcement chain than just the researchers themselves. Once conclusions are drawn and test tubes are put back in the cabinet, scholars must have their findings published in an academic journal to see their results applied beyond the laboratory. Of course, academic journals are also staffed and edited by humans who, like researchers, are then also potential recipients of a corporate payoff.

Published in September in the British Medical Journal, a paper by five University Health Network scientists looked at the growing practice of private industries giving financial payments to academic journal editors.

They scrutinized the payments made to 713 editors from 52 American medical journals. The main measure sought was the amount of money in USD received from private pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers by each study participant in 2014. All participants were at least associate editors in the publishing hierarchy, and all journals were cited as influential.

The authors divided the payments into two categories: research payments, which were for research related activities such as coordinating clinical trial enrolment, and general payments, which were for items more particular to the recipient such as meal or flight reimbursements. Due to their more ambiguous and personal nature, general payments were the focus of the paper.

They discovered that while editors received a median general payment of $11, the mean general payment was a whopping $28,136. This massive right-skew to the data can be explained by the fact that editors in certain esoteric fields, such as endocrinology or cardiology, seemed to attract much more money.

“It is speculative, but certain fields, such as cardiology and orthopedics, have developed innovation in medical devices and this may be driving the increased payments by industry to physician editors in these fields,” explained lead author Dr. Jessica Liu. “Other specialties, such as endocrinology, have innovation in novel drug development to an extent that is not seen in other fields, such as pathology or family medicine, for example.”

Evidently, there is a problem with privately funded research in academia. In her paper, Liu called for editors-in-chief of academic journals to consider the possibility of excluding industry-tied individuals from editorial positions.

However, there are issues with this approach. “This is where a blanket rule on conflict of interest doesn’t exactly work to me. It’s a small world out there after all; if you start eliminating these kinds of conflicts-of-interests you’re not going to be left with many experts,” said Dr. Emanuel Istrate, who is coordinator of VIC172Y1, a course focused on the interactions between society and science and the ethical responsibilities of scientists. “You can find a million people who have no industry ties, but how qualified are they?”

Once more, it seems that the answer lies in increased transparency. “We propose that a good place to start would be for all journals to have accessible, comprehensive, and transparent conflict of interest policies for editors,” said Liu.

Istrate, too, is optimistic. “Now most pharma journals declare conflict of interest or at least declare there is no conflict of interests. Journals are starting to insist a lot more on seeing the reliability of the statistics so that you can’t just have bad statistics or bad sample sizes and just hide it under the rug. So, I’m optimistic things are changing.”