We’ve told you before about the many ways the pharmaceutical industry scares the public about obesity in its quest to drive demand for weight-loss pills and plans. But now some critics are highlighting the potential conflicts of interest of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which published (and until very recently defended) a wildly exaggerated estimate of 400,000 deaths attributable to overweight and obesity.

Dan Seligman argues in the June 20 issue of Forbes that the CDC “has a built-in conflict of interest” which can affect its research:

How can such mistakes take place in a high-IQ organization like the CDC? The only answer that makes sense is the agency’s built-in ax in need of grinding. As hinted by its unabridged moniker (note the term “Disease Prevention”), it is expected to do more than research. The mission also includes selling the people on healthy lifestyles. And over the years, with plenty of encouragement from the CDC itself, obesity has become an all-too-visible symbol of unhealthy if not immoral living, linked in public thinking to inactivity and overeating. (The CDC has tactfully declined to call them sloth and gluttony.) So obesity became a certified good-guy cause to be promoted, and you are in trouble when serious scholars are also expected to be promoters.

Seligman could just as easily have been referring to a recent Institute of Medicine report recommending that public health officials “portray lifestyle-related risks as a public health concern rather than an individual problem.” The report also suggested developing “a research agenda that offers the strong justification needed to persuade policymakers of the public health importance of reducing the impact of preventable lifestyle-related risks.” Translation: Big numbers mean bigger budgets.

Meanwhile, former Congressman Bob Barr wrote in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed that the CDC’s self-inflicted scandal, which “raises serious questions about the agency’s competence to conduct credible scientific research,” may have been a byproduct of bureaucratic funding issues:

Just as trial lawyers are hoping to reap millions from litigation targeting fast-food purveyors and others, the CDC is pushing its publicly discredited study to improve its funding posture with Congress …

Indeed, in the month following the CDC’s release of its flawed figure, the head of the agency used the 400,000-deaths statistic while testifying before Congress about increased funding. Barr continues:

We don’t need to spend billions of dollars so publicity-seeking bureaucrats can tell us what good parents and common sense already tell children: “Don’t eat too much.”