A story appearing on the ABC news website on June 21 reveals that major U.S. snack companies are paying experts to debunk scientific research studies linking their products to negative health effects like the rising number of cases of childhood obesity and diabetes.
The report comes just as new research indicates that snack foods make up ¼ of most Americans diets—comprising more than 500 calories every day. Considered major factors in the rising levels of health issues, snack foods can often contain high levels of artificial fats, excessively refined sugars, high levels of sodium, preservatives and artificial flavors and colors.
With so much at stake for the major snack companies, it may not come as much of a surprise that many research studies come under criticism from industry peers and science experts who are actually paid millions of dollars by the snack companies, fast-food chains and industry associations to question and disprove research that would make consumers less likely to purchase their products.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is one example, coming under severe scrutiny for taking $10 million from Coca-Cola to study obesity in children. David Allison, head of the obesity research center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is one of the most notable industry sponsored scientists. He has taken money from Kraft, McDonald's, General Mills, Kelloggs, Mars and Nabisco. He was paid to file an affidavit in the case against New York City to support the New York Restaurants Association's opposition to a law that would require restaurants to list caloric information for all menu items. His scientific opinion was that it "might make people eat more."
Although Allison has taken millions of dollars to disprove the link between his clients products and rising diet-related health issues, the University of Alabama (his official employer) says that some of his research contradicts the interests of his corporate sponsors.
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Photo: Joe Shlabotnik