University says milk study had 'shortcomings'

Posted at 9:29 AM, Apr 01, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — The University of Maryland on Friday acknowledged the "shortcomings" of its study that touted the benefits of a small company's chocolate milk in improving the cognitive functions of high school football players.

The university said it is pursuing a "swift and comprehensive response" that includes the removal of press releases about the study on Fifth Quarter milk from its website and a review of its internal procedures. The school is also returning funding to the maker of the chocolate milk.

The school had launched an internal investigation after being criticized for a questionable press release in December about the study, which appeared to underscore conflicts-of-interest that can arise when companies back scientific research about their products. The study was funded through a university program intended to boost Maryland's economy by partnering local businesses with researchers.

In July, another press release had declared that Fifth Quarter's milk outperformed competing products in aiding post-exercise recovery. The studies were not made available, despite the press releases.

In a report detailing the findings of its investigation, the university said that the first phase of the study seemed more like a "service agreement" than research aimed at generating new knowledge. It said the second phase had too many uncontrolled variables to produce meaningful results. That was particularly troubling because students were used as subjects, the report said.

"The committee has found a concerning lack of understanding of the basic principles of conflict of interest in research at all levels of the process," the report said.

It also noted that reviewers had raised "serious questions" about the study, such as the professor's experience with nutritional and supplement research. The school said the researcher, Jae Kun Shim, a professor of kinesiology, did not see any of the reviews, and thus did not revise his procedures.

A letter posted online from the University of Maryland chief research officer said the school believed it was an isolated incident.

Fifth Quarter Fresh says its milk comes from "super, natural cows" and has higher amounts of protein, electrolytes, calcium and carbohydrates. The company said in a statement that it was disappointed to learn the university program "mishandled" the research.