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Is Public Trust in Nutrition Science Eroding?

The perception among many researchers is that public trust in nutrition science is eroding. This insight contrasts with the view that public trust in science is a broad activity that has remained seemingly stable for almost 50 years and remains strong today.

Is Public Trust in Nutrition Science Eroding?

The loss of public confidence is likely a consequence of multiple factors, including:

  • The growing complexity of modern science.
  • The perception that experts are continuously changing assessments of available evidence.
  • The repeated failures to uphold professional standards leading to a drop in scientific rigour.
  • The growing polarisation of social and policy sectors in which science plays a prominent role.
  • The democratisation of information which has led to a large volume of easy-to-dissipate, unverifiable information.
  • Failures by researchers, universities, or scientific journals to disclose current and/or historical conflicts of interest.
  • A steady erosion of public trust in expertise in general, rather than in science specifically.

To address this, in 2016, the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) commissioned a Blue Ribbon Panel on “Ensuring Trust in Nutrition Science” to develop best practices regarding how to work collaboratively with various stakeholders across sectors and disciplines while maintaining transparency and scientific rigor in nutrition science. The report outlined a series of recommendations that attempt to address the decline in public trust regarding nutritional science.

The Recommendations

  • Creating a culture of transparency and the need to manage conflicts of interest (COI) in partnerships and activities.
  • The need to uphold standards for evidence-based conclusions in publications to avoid contradictory nutrition messages related to health benefits and risks.
  • The maintenance of effective dialogue between ASN, the public, and the media.
  • The need to develop guidelines for conducting nutritional research funded by third party entities with COIs.
  • The need to perform independent audits of adherence and disclose all COIs of financial and other sources.

Among the numerous information sources, healthcare providers and academic-based nutrition scientists may be the most trusted sources for health or nutrition information. The quality and accuracy of nutrition information are therefore essential to establish best practices that effectively earn and enhance public trust.

At Unilever, we take this responsibility seriously. Our Code of Business Principles (PDF 8.51 MB) is our guidebook for putting our values into practice. It sets out a clear standard of conduct to ensure that we always make the right choice, providing a framework of simple “musts” and “must nots” which not only protects Unilever but helps us make a meaningful impact on the lives of millions of people who use our products.



Garza, C., Stover, P.J., Ohlhorst, S.D., Field, M.S., Steinbrook, R., Rowe, S., Woteki, C. and Campbell, E., 2019. Best practices in nutrition science to earn and keep the public’s trust. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 109(1), pp.225-243.

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