Childhood Obesity Science Conflicts of Interest
If a tobacco company were to fund an anti-smoking scientific journal, most people would point out the glaring conflict of interest. Yet, a new peer-reviewed, scientific journal, Childhood Obesity (Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.), was launched in September 2010 with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Kellogg Foundation’s trust assets include $4.1 billon of Kellogg Company common stock (out of $6.4 billion total assets). That’s not independence.
In effect, a major food company is funding a childhood obesity scientific journal. Will childhood obesity researchers and professionals thus tend to look more kindly at the Kellogg Company and its food products? Kellogg’s products include sugary kids’ cereals, such as Fruit Loops, Honey Smacks, and Cocoa Puffs, and pastries such as Pop Tarts. Kellogg’s Pop Tarts are marketed as entertainment for kids with the slogan, “Made for Fun.”
Furthermore, the Vice President for Programs of the Kellogg Foundation, Gail C. Christopher, DN, is on Childhood Obesity’s editorial board. Dr. Christopher is a naturopath and wrote the “Welcome” article in the inaugural issue of the journal. Why would a naturopath, much less a vice president of a food giant’s foundation, be selected for the editorial board of a medical childhood obesity journal? Might the Kellogg Company wish to influence the journal’s choice of articles?
Emerging new evidence indicates that sugar may be addicting and thus a possible cause of the childhood obesity epidemic. Exposure to sugary kids’ cereals might induce sugar addiction in children. The Kellogg Company may not want articles on food addiction to appear in Childhood Obesity. By way of disclosure, my article, entitled “Food Addiction in Children,” was rejected by Childhood Obesity but was accepted by the journal, Eating Disorders. Researchers at Yale University recently remarked (PDF) on the effect of food-addiction evidence on the food industry:
But for such a sensitive issue, and one with potentially important legal implications, one can imagine how threatening even the implication of addiction would be to the [food] industry, as it was with tobacco.
The Kellogg Foundation also has provided funding in 2010 for HealthCorps, with the stated purpose:
[…To] prevent childhood obesity by encouraging students to take personal responsibility for their health and wellness.
“Personal responsibility” is the food industry’s typical solution for the obesity epidemic. The American Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, also known as the Cheeseburger Bill, sought to protect producers and retailers of foods — such as McDonald’s Corporation — from an increasing number of suits and class action suits by obese consumers. The Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2004, but did not receive a Senate vote. The Bill was reintroduced in 2005 by Florida Republican Congressman Ric Keller and re-passed by the House but still not by the Senate.
How much personal responsibility is a five-year-old able to exercise when he discovers a box of Fruit Loops or Pop Tarts in the pantry? If the Kellogg Foundation is to fund efforts to prevent childhood obesity, as well as childhood obesity research, shouldn’t the Foundation completely divest itself of all assets in the Kellogg Company food giant? Otherwise, a conflict of interest will continue to exist.
As noted in the “Medical Science and Food Addiction” post on our Childhood Obesity News blog, the high fructose corn syrup industry was a sponsor of the Obesity Society 2008 scientific meeting. At the Obesity Society 2010 scientific meeting, the word “addiction” was censored from presentation titles in the preliminary vs. final program.
Pepsico is funding obesity research at Yale, and The American Dietetic Association recently announced that it has inked a partnership with the Hershey Company. McDonald’s has a Global Advisory Council consisting of childhood obesity and nutrition professionals.
I talked with Dr. Tom Baranowski, an eminent childhood obesity researcher and one of the Council’s members, at a child obesity conference. He revealed that he has received money from McDonald’s for his Council services but would not reveal the amount. With all due respect to Dr. Baranowski and the other distinguished members of McDonald’s Global Advisory Council, if someone pays you money, it’s impossible to be objective.
Childhood Obesity Initiative Conflicts of Interest
The November 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics included a special supplement about the Shaping America’s Youth (SAY) initiative to combat childhood obesity. SAY recently held town meetings all across the U.S. to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity in children, with the goal of eradicating the childhood obesity epidemic. The source of funding for these town meetings included Conagra Foods, QTC Group (a division of Pepsico), Cadbury Schweppes (a division of Kraft Foods), and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (Dr. Pepper, 7UP, Canada Dry, RC Cola). Food companies appear to be trying to divert attention away from evidence of food addiction by portraying childhood obesity as nutritional ignorance and a sedentary lifestyle problem.
McDonald’s was a supporter of the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, as part of an esteemed group which included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the National League of Cities, and the YMCA. Does anyone really believe that McDonald’s will do what is necessary to combat the childhood obesity epidemic?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Premier Issue of New Childhood Obesity Journal Launched by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers,” Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers PR release, 09/07/10
Source: “Pop Tarts Dancer,” YouTube
Source: “Combined Statements of Financial Position With Supplemental Combining Information,” W.K. Kellogg Foundation Annual Report, 2009
Source: “Study Suggests Sugar May Be Addictive,” HealthDay, 12/10/10
Source: “The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?” (PDF), Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, 2009
Source: “Should PepsiCo be Funding Obesity Research at Yale?” Fooducate blog, 04/07/10
Source: “Only in America: Candy Maker to Sponsor Our Dietary Advice [Thanks Hershey!],” Fooducate blog, 07/20/10
Source: “Making the Case!” (video), Healthier Kids, Brighter Futures, 09/10
Image: Cover of Childhood Obesity, used under Fair Use: Reporting.