When a House Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on obesity policy yesterday, three groups used their testimony to hype the obesity myth. Not surprisingly, all three have been well funded by weight-loss and diet drug companies looking to cash in on the so-called obesity epidemic. Representatives from these three groups should have been asked: "Are you now, or have you ever been, funded by firms hoping to profit from your sky-is-falling rhetoric?" Their (truthful) answers would have included the following information:
American Obesity Association (AOA)
In his testimony yesterday, AOA Executive Director Morgan Downey complained about "private health insurance programs actually eliminat[ing] coverage for bariatric surgery." This, Downey insisted, is a "national tragedy occurring at our doorsteps." It's really more of a tragedy for one AOA member in particular — the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, which would profit from coverage by government and health insurance companies. It's not surprising Downey would lobby for the group, since he "serves as the director of the Washington office of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery." The Wall Street Journal reported in 1998 that AOA president Richard Atkinson "says the group receives most of its funding — several hundred thousand dollars in all — from the pharmaceutical industry, including Interneuron, American Home Products, Roche Laboratories, Knoll Pharmaceuticals Ltd., and Servier — all of which market or develop diet pills." AOA's other corporate sponsors include Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, which also want their products covered by insurance providers.
North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO)
A quasi-trade association for obesity researchers, NAASO has received funding from the likes of weight-loss and diet-drug companies Amgen, Eli Lilly, Hoffmann-La Roche, Interneuron, Knoll, Slim-Fast, and Wyeth-Ayerst. Roche helped pick up the tab for NAASO's "Clinical Management of Obesity" CD-ROM for doctors, and has been credited along with Knoll for "very generous donations."
The Endocrine Society
In 2000 the Endocrine Society received at least $100,000 each from pharmaceutical companies Aventis, Eli Lilly, Knoll, Novartis, Pfizer, Pharmacia, Roche, Sensus, and Wyeth-Ayerst. In 2001 the Society picked up another $100,000 each from Abbott, Aventis, Eli Lilly, Genentch, Merck, Novartis, Pharmacia, Pfizer, Roche, Sensus, and Wyeth-Ayerst. The organization's "Corporate Liaison Board" has two representatives from Wyeth, which has a rich history of hyping obesity to sell its weight-loss pills.