Chocolate milk sounds so innocent.
But apparently at the University of Maryland, it was anything but. Just before Christmas, the school sent out a press release about a new study on concussions in high school football players and how chocolate milk might help. This is pretty common procedure; the university has a robust research tradition, and often promotes its findings to the wider world. What was notable in this case was that the release touted the neurological benefits of one particular brand of chocolate milk, citing vague claims of “improvement” without any hard facts or results. Not surprisingly, the chocolate milk manufacturer quickly added the study to its website, claiming that it helps “protect the brain.”
The beady-eyed folks over at Health News Review noticed, and were not pleased:
The release says high school football players, including some who suffered concussions, who drank the milk improved their scores on a computer-based concussion evaluation, but the release not only doesn’t say how much improvement was seen, it doesn’t even say which of the 36 measurements in the test improved. The release highlights the protein, calcium and electrolyte content of the milk, without ever mentioning each serving also contains the equivalent of eight teaspoons of sugar. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this case is the status of the “study” it is based on. The study does not appear to have been independently reviewed or published…. If this story were to gain traction, it may further the health haloing of a beverage that drop per drop has more calories and nearly as much sugar as Coca-Cola.
It turns out that the “study” that found all these great benefits of this one particular brand was never published, meaning it wasn’t independently reviewed. And while the university has launched an investigation into the circumstances behind the press release, it has also shied away from giving interviews about how the whole thing happened in the first place.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering — yeah, the chocolate milk brand in question funded part of the study. As experts at Johns Hopkins have pointed out, federal funding for research has declined significantly in recent years, and universities are increasingly looking to partnerships with private industry… which can sometimes have a corrupting influence on the research itself. In other words, this chocolate milk kerfuffle might be less of a fluke, and more of a sign of the “science” we can expect to see more of in the future.
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