How companies can slice and dice data to help sell products

What to do if your study didn’t pan out as you had hoped? Get creative, of course!

While anyone can do shoddy science, supplement companies are notorious for funding studies that are tailor-made for marketing. And many of them don’t stand up to scrutiny. See this post for some examples of the tricks companies employ to make a study look better than it is. Here’s another example.

“Shakeology can help curb cravings and help you lose weight,” says Beachbody, Shakeology’s parent company.

In a Beachbody-funded study co-authored by company employees, 41 adults drank a Shakeology smoothie, which was high in protein and added fiber, or a calorie-matched placebo smoothie with less fiber and almost no protein. A half hour later, they were told to eat as much pizza as they wanted.

Unfortunately (for the Shakeology marketing team), the volunteers ate no less pizza after they drank Shakeology than after they drank the placebo.

So the researchers sliced and diced the data. When they grouped the volunteers into “less than 25 years” or “25 years and older” categories (the average age of the entire group was 30), they found that the older group ate roughly 180 fewer calories’ worth of pizza after drinking Shakeology than after downing the placebo.

So do Shakeology smoothies curb cravings and lead to weight loss if you’re 25 or older? The study wasn’t designed to look at that, so you’d need a new study to find out. But why bother? Shakeology got something good enough to advertise.

The information in this post first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.


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