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March 12, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 03/12/2007

Nutrition Review Questions Soda-Obesity Link . . .

Can you artificially sweeten the scientific literature? The latest American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (subscription required), in a review questioning the link between consuming sugar-sweetened drinks and rising obesity rates, failed to reveal the two authors’ financial ties to the beverage industry. Although the journal disclosed that the review was paid for by the American Beverage Association, whose member companies include Coca-Cola and Pepsi, authors Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington and France Bellisle of the Institut National de Recherché Agronomique in France reported that they had no other conflicts of interest.

Last month, the Seattle Times reported that a University of Washington study led by Drewnowski on high-fructose corn syrup was financed by the Corn Refiners Association and American Beverage Institute. Bellisle, meanwhile, sits on an advisory board for McDonald's, which sells large amounts of Coca-Cola products.

The review suggested that weight gain associated with drinking sweetened beverages may be due to other factors since studies have shown that consuming sugar-containing liquids in lieu of regular meals can lead to "significant and sustained weight loss.” However, those studies involved nutrient-fortified meal-replacement beverages, not soft drinks.

. . . While Report Says Industry Soda Studies Underplay Health Problems

A new Yale University report found that studies funded by industry are much less likely to show detrimental effects from soft drinks than studies that did not receive industry funding. The article analyzed 88 studies identified through databases such as MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Web of Science. "Studies funded by the food industry simply did not find the degree of negative health effects from soft drinks that independent scholars discovered," Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, said in a statement. Brownell co-authored the study, which will appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health, with fellow Yale researchers Lenny Vartanian and Marlene Schwartz.

EPA Advisers Stick with Stricter Ozone Recommendation

An outside scientific expert panel voted unanimously last week to stick with its recommendation that the Environmental Protection Agency lower the federal air quality standard for ozone beyond the administration's recommendation, according to E&E News PM (subscription required). The 23-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) said in September that new evidence showing adverse respiratory effects in sensitive groups such as children with asthma made the present ozone standard, which is 0.08 ppm average over eight hours, obsolete. EPA staff in late January recommended that the standard be lowered to "somewhat below" 0.08 parts per million. The advisory panel said the standard should not exceed 0.07 ppm. This tougher recommendation came despite the panel having several members with conflicts of interest, and eight whose research was funded by the Health Effects Institute, which is jointly funded by the auto industry and the EPA.

A Tale of Two Tests

Using expensive CT scans to screen chronic smokers may increase early diagnosis of lung cancer, but it does not reduce smokers’ risk of contracting advanced lung cancer and dying, according to a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Association last week. “We don’t think there’s a hint of benefit,” lead researcher Peter B. Bach of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center told the New York Times. The findings are diametrically opposed to a similar study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, which showed routine screening with CT scans increased the longevity of smokers identified with cancer, presumably because they were diagnosed and treated earlier.

Funding for the two studies was notably different, too. The latest JAMA study was self-funded by the researchers’ institutions, which, in addition to Sloan-Kettering, included the National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense, and several European government agencies. While researchers involved in the NEJM study also received government support, General Electric, which sells expensive CT scan machines, and Eastman Kodak, which sells the film, also provided financial support over the 12-year study period. The Times story, authored by Gina Kolata, offered the contrasting views of the two studies’ authors, but did not report the funding sources of either.

Government Silences Polar Bear Scientists

Employees of the Alaska division of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service were instructed not to discuss climate change, polar bears, or sea ice while traveling in countries around the Arctic region, the New York Times reported. An Interior Department memo stated that employees who spoke on these issues had to be approved and had to understand the “administration’s position,” especially regarding the plight of the polar bears whose habitat is disappearing due to global warming.

Consultants Removed from BPA Panel

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences removed representatives of Sciences International, which previously worked for chemical companies that produced bisphenol A (BPA), from administering the meeting of an outside advisory panel that is evaluating risks from BPA; the agency also postponed its decision for two to three months to review additional documents. The decision comes as evidence of the chemicals' risk continues to mount. The Washington Post reported today that researchers believe that the chemical may contribute to obesity, and a new study in the journal Endocrinology demonstrates that exposure to low doses of BPA affects the development of mammary glands in mice, increasing the risk of breast cancers.

(Cheers and) Jeers

  • Jeers: An article in the Norwich Bulletin on a speech by Richard Lindzen refuting global warming neglected to mention that Lindzen has ties to at least four groups that receive funding from ExxonMobil.

Odds and Ends

University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Deborah Powell has joined the board of PepsiAmericas, a soft-drink bottler whose main products are linked to obesity, diabetes and other human health problems, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. . . .The University of Ottawa has launched a review of its conflict-of-interest rules regarding faculty consulting with private industry, the Ottawa Citizen reports.