J

etting off for a jog in snug-fitting compression tights won’t help a runner go farther or faster, according to a new study that’s not doing any favors for its sponsor, Nike.

The sports gear giant — which offers compression tights in every color of the rainbow — funded the study, which was conducted by sports medicine researchers at Ohio State University. It was meant to test a long-standing theory that compression tights tamp down on muscle vibrations during exercise and, in turn, reduce fatigue.

Researchers had 20 participants run on a treadmill for 30 minutes on two different days, sporting compression tights during one session and roomier running clothes in the other. The treadmill was equipped with sensors that could measure the force of each step hitting the ground and the force pushing the foot back up, and track how that changed over time. Researchers tested participants’ leg strength and jump height before and after each run to get an idea of how much wear and tear the workout exerted on their muscles.

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The result? The compression tights were a bust.

They didn’t cut down on muscle fatigue or help runners keep up a fast pace for a longer stretch of time. (The researchers do say it’s possible the tights might help in ways that can’t be measured.) The results were presented Thursday at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting.

It’s relatively rare to see an industry-sponsored study turn up negative results — and even more uncommon for those results to be published and trumpeted in a press release.

Nutrition research, in particular, has been plagued by the problem of industry-sponsored studies turning up results favorable to industry.

There was the study that hyped canola oil as a way to cut down on belly fat — sponsored by the Canola Council of Canada. The paper that claimed spaghetti could help people stay skinny — sponsored by the pasta professionals over at Barilla. And how about the research finding that chocolate can boost your attention span — sponsored by Hershey. The list goes on.

Nutrition scientist Marion Nestle has looked at dozens of those industry-funded studies. Nearly all have reported results favorable to their sponsors, she said.

Publication bias — the increased likelihood that a paper will be published if the results are positive — affects scientific studies across the board, but it seems to be a particularly thorny problem for industry-sponsored research.

“Overall, the vast majority of studies that are published are ‘positive,’ but industry funded ones are even more likely to be positive,” said Lisa Bero, a health outcomes researcher who has studied the issue at the University of Sydney.

But the Nike-sponsored research doesn’t fall into that bucket. The company seems to have stuck to its motto: Just do it. And then, just publish it. Even if the research runs the risk of harming sales.

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  • I’d always assumed the compression tights were to help prevent injuries. The “compression shorts” were supposed to prevent hamstring and quad injuries by quickly getting the muscles warm and keeping them warm.

  • Would really appreciate a link to the study or a mention of the authors’ names or anything to help us find the work so we could read it ourselves.

    • It seems this has not been published but presented at the College of Sports Medicine meeting. Follow the hyperlink results in the article above. The notice is from a press release from the university where the study was done.

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