The CDC-Coke Scandal and Beyond

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Just when everybody was catching up on the less-than-optimal activities and connections of Dr. Michael Pratt, there was a new development. In June, while still employed by the Centers for Disease Control, he also began working for the University of San Diego’s School of Medicine. The Division of Global Health hired Dr. Pratt to advise on physical activity and non-communicable disease policy.

In other words, different boss, same gig. His job is to preach the gospel of “Energy Balance,” and convince the World Health Organization and anyone else who will listen that physical activity is the sovereign cure for the non-communicable disease of obesity. Consequently, according to this doctrine, corporations that manufacture, advertise, and sell sugar-sweetened drinks bear zero responsibility for the global obesity epidemic.

In that area, Dr. Pratt’s experience is extensive. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, he has co-authored several papers whose research was funded by the Coca-Cola Company. Journalist Morgan Cook mentions a dicey-looking recent study which found no relation between obesity and the substances that pre-adolescent children put into their bodies:

Physical activity, sleep, and time spent watching television were identified as more important predictors of obesity than whether the children ate mostly vegetables or diets dominated by processed food and soda.

And then, there is ILSI, the industry-funded (so-called) nonprofit charity organization which Dr. Pratt advises on science, and on (surprise!) liaising with government bureaucracies. He was, and perhaps still is, a member of the ILSI Board of Trustees. Many of the expenses for his jaunts to conferences and other gatherings sponsored by Big Soda, have been paid for by Big Soda.

As Dr. Pratt segues out of the CDC job, the university is not concerned with any appearance of impropriety in his former position. When the conduct of CDC colleague Dr. Barbara Bowman was questioned for conflicts of interest, she resigned within days. Others in a similar situations appear less worried about anything catching up with them. The school’s spokesperson says the new employee is also cutting his ties with ILSI, and assures critics that Dr. Pratt’s work has not been influenced at all, ever, by Coke money.

This is all a big problem for several reasons. The Centers for Disease Control is a tax-supported institution that has one job: to improve the health of Americans including obese children. To advance the interests of the beverage industry is not part of that job description. Like the CDC, the research facilities of a university are also, ideally, expected to produce science unfettered by ties to industry.

Also, whether governmental or educational, we are expected to trust the institution to make policy and help us understand the reasons for it. When relations between these bodies and the very persuasive corporate lobbyists become all cozy-like, it is, as the kids say, “not a good look.” U.S. Right to Know put it like this:

ILSI is partnering with the UCSD to hold a forum related to “energy balance behavior,” planned for November 30 to December 1 of this year. One of the moderators is another CDC scientist, Janet Fulton, Chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch.

In other words, yet another CDC official seems to be involved in this questionable alliance, raising the possibility that further chapters of the story might be forthcoming.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “UCSD hires Coke-funded health researcher,” SanDiegoUnionTribune.com, 09/29/16
Source: “Dr. Michael Pratt,” USRTK.org, 10/20/16
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Visualhunt/CC BY

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