Last Wednesday, June 29, U.S. Health and Human Services assistant secretary for health Karen DeSalvo announced the members of the “2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee.” The committee members,
will examine current scientific evidence on the relationship between physical activity and health outcomes and will ultimately submit evidence-based recommendations in a scientific advisory report to the Secretary of HHS. These recommendations will be considered, along with public and federal agency comments, as HHS develops the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
The results will not surprise anyone familiar with the history of U.S. government collaboration with Big Soda. Nine of the 17 members are Fellows of the American College of Sports Medicine, a long-time recipient of Gatorade and Coca-Cola funding. Of those, at least two have been funded by Coca-Cola.
The first is Peter Katzmarzyk, the lead recipient of a $6,426,000 funding grant from Coca-Cola. Unsurprisingly, this project reached the conclusion that a lack of exercise “is the biggest predictor of childhood obesity around the world.” Marion Nestle critiqued Katzmarzyk’s work,
This was a standard study funded by Coca-Cola that produced results favorable to Coca-Cola’s marketing interests … By this time, the evidence linking sugary drinks to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other conditions is pretty convincing. Investigators can accept industry funding if they like, but they shouldn’t expect anyone to believe it.
The other Coke-funded committee member, Russell Pate, is a former ACSM president. Pate is the guy to whom Coke refers reporters when it wants to counter the idea that its products contribute to chronic disease. His employer is the University of South Carolina, a recipient of over $6 million dollars from Coca-Cola since 2010. He is a former member of the defunct and discredited Coca-Cola proxy group, the Global Energy Balance Network, famous for doubting the relationship between food and obesity. The former ACSM president has even stated that he does not know what causes obesity. Such professed ignorance may complicate his service on the committee.
Was HHS assistant secretary DeSalvo truly unable to find any exercise scientists untainted by obvious conflicts of interest? Are Katzmarzyk and Pate really the best American exercise science has to offer? Given DeSalvo’s history, however, it seems plausible that she simply preferred to involve Coca-Cola.
In her previous job as health commissioner of New Orleans, DeSalvo implemented the Fit NOLA campaign. Coca-Cola partnered with and funded Fit Nola. DeSalvo headed the Fit NOLA Board, which included not one but two Coca-Cola representatives as senior chairs. Under DeSalvo’s leadership, even Fit NOLA’s PR and communications manager was a Coca-Cola employee.
DeSalvo is a political appointee of the Obama Administration. President Obama began his presidency unafraid to confront Big Soda–he supported a national soda tax in his first term. With these physical activity committee nominations, the outgoing administration had an opportunity to live up to its rhetoric and select a committee untainted by Big Soda’s corrupting influence. Instead Obama’s appointees chose to maintain the status quo and perpetuate the cozy Big-Soda / federal government “partnership” that has left over 100 million Americans to suffer from diabetes or prediabetes. It will be up to the next president to stop the carnage. Step one is to drive Big Soda out of the health sciences by ending its “partnership” with federal government agencies.