Childhood Obesity and Kellogg-Backed Publications

Two headed Berber Daisy

When the journal Childhood Obesity started up, with financial sponsorship from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Fat Boy Thin Man author Michael Prager got in touch with the publisher and expressed concern about the dual role filled by the foundation’s vice president of program strategy. Gail C. Christopher was and still is a member of the editorial board at Childhood Obesity. One of Liebert Publishing’s executives, Vicki Cohn, replied and assured Prager that Christopher does not participate in the peer-review process, to which he responded:

That’s worth mentioning, certainly, but not persuasive. The obvious concern is not whether she’s involved in peer review, but whether the foundation can influence editorial decisions. Take note of the obvious: Whether to publish an article is an editorial decision.

Prager goes into some detail about what a strange choice it seems to him. He points out that the reason an editorial board exists is, presumably, to exercise authority over editorial content. It seems odd that the foundation would put somebody there for no reason, so there must be a reason. If there were no positive benefit involved, why would the foundation expose itself to criticism by placing a staff member at the publication? Then, fair-minded as always, he looks at the other side:

If I was funding a journal, I’d want a voice on its editorial board, too, so it’s to be expected. But once you take that step, you’d have to expect the obvious questions about editorial integrity. My assumption is that the money spends a lot better than integrity.

Cohn requested that Prager should print her reply unedited or not at all, which we can’t do here. But hopefully it will not be a bad thing to pass along the invitation she extended to Prager’s readers to visit the magazine’s website.

Soon after Childhood Obesity started up, Dr. David Katz became the publication’s editor-in-chief. The current issue, which offers some of its contents free online, includes an editorial by Dr. Katz. The title asks whether it’s time to break out the champagne — an allusion to the popular but unfounded belief that the childhood obesity battle has turned around and it’s time to celebrate.

The list of contents includes symbols indicating whether each article is free or available only by subscription. Some of the other subjects include cardiovascular disease risk factors in urban minority children; the relation between BMI and the development of the sympathetic nervous system; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s snack food and beverage standards; school-based obesity prevention programs; youth baseball; a global obesity update; and an overview of current interesting academic papers.

A reminder

One article has a troubling title — “Discrepant Body Mass Index: Behaviors Associated with Height and Weight Misreporting among US Adolescents from the National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study.” Childhood Obesity News has discussed how self-reporting can cause uncertainty in any study where it is employed. In many cases it seems unavoidable, because the alternative would be an unbearably Orwellian condition of surveillance. Is it possible to even imagine a recording system that would account for every molecule of food or drink consumed by a teenager, for a year?

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the world’s largest private philanthropic organizations, has been around for a long time. Its main interests are healthy, educated kids and secure families. It has done a lot of great things, concentrating on children in the prenatal-to-8-years age range, where the opportunity exists to make the biggest difference. It aims to compensate for some of the world’s inequities, and has found that focusing on specific projects in specific geographical areas is the key to maximum impact. Tomorrow, we continue looking at the publications it sponsors.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Independent-ish,” MichaelPrager.com, 12/21/10
Source: “Childhood Obesity,” Liebertpub.com, June 2014
Image by Jinx!

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