Study finds quality of reporting of supplement trials to be “poor” and blame could be down to restrictions in scientific journals

By David Anderson

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Zardinax
© iStock/Zardinax

Related tags Clinical trial

Restrictions on word counts in scientific journals on the reporting of trials on the efficacy of supplements can hinder the quality of the reporting of the study, according to the author of a study which judged the quality of reporting to be “poor”.

Speaking to NutraIngredients, Evelina Liljeberg, researcher, department of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics, Uppsala University, Sweden, said that it was down to both researchers conducting the trials and the journals where trials were being reported to improve the quality of reporting on ONS (oral nutritional supplements) interventions.

“In cases where lack of awareness of reporting guidelines is the reason for incomplete reporting, the use of such a guideline could quite easily improve the reporting quality,”​ she told us.

“However, very often scientific journals have word count restrictions which can counteract high quality reporting. If journals endorse reporting guidelines like the TIDieR (Template for Intervention Description and Replication) checklist and also allow reference to extra materials then high quality reporting of interventions is more likely.”

Study details

The comments from Liljeberg come amid research which looked at the quality of reporting of supplement trials in publications describing randomised controlled trials of ONS in populations with malnutrition or at nutritional risk between January 2002 and December 2015.

The quality of the reporting was gauged using the TIDieR checklist which contains 12 items, such as the brand name of the ONS administered, how the ONS was taken and the prescribed dose, to ensure the trials meet industry standards.

Of the 76 articles scrutinised, 45 of the clinical trials were carried out in the community or in an outpatients setting; 18 were carried out in institutions settings (nursing homes, homes for the elderly, hospitals) and 13 were carried out in combined setting (e.g. intervention started in hospital and continued in community setting).

The 76 articles were published in 42 different journals:13 in Clinical Nutrition; four in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, four in the Journal of Renal Nutrition and four in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Standard of reporting is “poor”

In its findings, the study authors concluded that the reporting quality of ONS interventions it scrutinised was poor, highlighting that the reporting “mostly lack information about intervention procurers, provider and location”.

It, however, said the standard of reporting was higher after 2011.

Overall, it said just three percent of the articles it studied provided description of all 12 TIDieR items.

“In our study we found that slightly more than one third of the published articles did not contain sufficient information regarding how much of the prescribed amount of ONS that was actually consumed,”​ the report said.

A majority of the articles reported a brief name of the intervention, a rationale for the intervention and what materials were used, while less than half of the articles reported intervention procedures in sufficient detail- for instance, failing to include advice about how to take the supplement, choice of flavours, the name of the supplement brand and location of the trial.

The authors pointed out the consequences of incomplete reporting, specifically that it hindered replication of trials and undermined interpretation of the results

“The consequences of low reporting quality of ONS interventions are difficulties with the replication of trials and making correct interpretation of trial results,”​ Liljeberg told us.

“For example, if a successful ONS intervention is to be transferred to clinical practice all information of the intervention is important in order to achieve the same result as in the trial.”

Asked who was responsible for this failure to meet expected standards, Liljeberg told us: “It is the researchers/authors of the RCTs that write the reports with incomplete descriptions. However, the industry is often funding trials and could raise higher demands on the reporting quality of publications on funded trials.”

Source: Clinical Nutrition

Published online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2017.03.024

"Incomplete descriptions of oral nutritional supplement interventions in reports of randomised controlled trials"

Authors: ​E Liljeberg A Andersson,  E Lövestam and others


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