Study’s Value In Eye of the Beholder

With a theatrical flair that included football-themed cookies, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) continued the annual tradition of making a mockery out of 100 programs and studies funded by the federal government that he finds most wasteful.

Overall, the report found $247 billion in wasteful or inefficient federal spending. Among the 100 programs, regulations or studies in the report, one was a $2 million, multiyear study by the National Institutes of Health “about how kids don’t like to eat food that’s been sneezed on.”

Gesundheit | Photo courtesy of James Gathany (2009), Centers for Disease Control

According to Lankford’s annual “Federal Fumbles” report, the NIH has funded this grant since 2012, and the grantees have published seven papers discussing their results. In April 2015, the grantees published a paper stating that when children aged 5-8 were given the choice between allegedly sneezed-on food and clean food, they chose the clean food.

“Spending almost $2 million to find out what is already common knowledge is obviously an ineffective use of American tax dollars,” the report said. Instead, the NIH should use its resources on projects that have a true, tangible benefit to all Americans, not on redundant or unnecessary research, it said.

But the NIH defended the study in a statement, saying developmental psychologists have devoted little attention to how young children perceive food.

In the study’s public proposal, the study’s authors said they aimed to explore mechanisms underlying children's food selection, including social influences. It’s important to understand which factors guide children's food reasoning and behavior, since early eating habits influence later practices and health, the proposal said.

“The long-term goal of this research is to design research-supported interventions for promoting healthy eating throughout the lifespan,” the proposal said.

But surely plenty of studies exist on the eating habits of children, so why should the government fund more?

Perhaps one answer lies in a special communication issued in November by JAMA Internal Medicine, which discounted decades-old studies funded by the sugar industry finding that fat, rather than sugar, is the prime contributor of heart disease.

“Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry–funded studies,” the communication stated.