What government entity has failed to a greater extent than the CDC? The agency defines itself as “the nation’s health protection agency.” Its core mission is to prevent the spread of disease, chronic and acute. Take diabetes. Since 1992, the year Congress added Prevention to the CDC’s name, over 28 million adult Americans have been newly diagnosed with diabetes.
Judging by the CDC’s own graph, its rededication to chronic disease prevention has coincided with a massive rise in chronic disease. These bars represent thousands of lost limbs, millions of early deaths, and billions of additional health care expenditure. The diabetes rate has exploded since Congress dedicated the CDC to prevention. Under the CDC’s watch, the rate of new diabetes cases nearly tripled, from 682,000 in 1992 to 1,7230,000 in 2009. To be sure, the diabetes rate has slightly decreased since 2009, but the CDC cannot take credit for that.
Americans have drastically cut back on soda and sugar consumption for the past 10-15 years. The CDC deserves zero thanks for that – it has strenuously avoided taking a stance on limiting sugar consumption, which suggests that Americans have greater awareness of the perils of sugar than the CDC. As the CDC wavered on sugar, the USDA and HHS added firm limits on sugar consumption to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the FDA has decided to add sugar limits to food labels. You read that right. The USDA, committed to promoting the agricultural industry, has taken a firm stance on limiting sugar, yet the CDC, allegedly dedicated to protecting Americans’ health, has not.
During that same period the American military has swiftly overthrown Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, yet left Iraq and Afghanistan vulnerable to terrorist control. The American economy contracted in 2008-2009, but also grew steadily in the 90’s. Our intelligence agencies failed to prevent 9/11, but also helped to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Ups and downs happen in all sectors, except for federal chronic disease prevention. All the CDC does is lose.
People in D.C. often observe that you can explain government failure as conspiracy or incompetence, and the correct answer is usually incompetence. That may be true, and it was my initial thesis with the CDC. The conspiracy theory explanation has lately become much more plausible, however. Like Coca-Cola, the CDC has consistently focused on increasing physical activity to address chronic diseases rather than on limiting sugar consumption.
What would collusion between Big Soda and health scientists look like? We have the perfect answer to that question: the Global Energy Balance Network. The Global Energy Balance Network feigned objectivity in its efforts to prevent chronic disease even as its main location was paid for by Coca-Cola, its operations were funded by Coca-Cola, its officials used their scientific facades to advance Coca-Cola’s interests, and embarrassing internal emails acquired by journalists revealed Global Energy Balance Network officials cooperating with Coca-Cola representatives. When this scandal came to light, public outcry ensued and a top GEBN official stepped down from his job. In the end the GEBN died. No one would listen, or pay for, its soda-funded lies any more.
The CDC’s main location in Atlanta was paid for by a Coca-Cola President. Its operations have been funded by Coca-Cola, its officials used their scientific facades to advance Coca-Cola’s interests, and embarrassing internal emails acquired by journalists have revealed CDC officials cooperating with Coca-Cola representatives. Now that this scandal has come to light, public outcry has ensued and a chief CDC official has stepped down.
The CDC is the Global Energy Balance Network of 2016.
A History of Coca-Cola-CDC Collusion:
Coca-Cola has paid the CDC Foundation more than a million dollars since 2010, as covered in a previous Russells Blog post. On February 9, 2016, CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman sent a letter to the CDC Foundation asking it “to stop taking money from Coca-Cola.” The CDC Foundation responded, but did not comply with Mr. Glassman’s request. Their response insisted that they “work diligently” to maintain the CDC’s integrity and avoid “conflicts of interest.” That is clearly not the case.
The CDC permitted former Coca-Cola Chief Science and Health Officer Rhona Applebaum to serve on its Roundtable on Global Health Threats. The CDC Diabetes Twitter account has never tweeted about reducing sugar consumption, but it has emphasized the role of physical activity in controlling glucose levels.
On June 28, 2016, Carey Gillam of US Right To Know released internal CDC emails acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. The emails showed that “a leading beverage and food industry advocate” received “input and guidance from Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, on how to address World Health Organization actions that were hurting the beverage industry.”
CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben denied that the Bowman emails formed a conflict of interest. Yet two days after these emails were released, Bowman announced she would leave the CDC immediately.
The “industry advocate” asking Bowman for help was former Coca-Cola Vice President Alex Malaspina, who founded the International Life Sciences Institute in 1978, with support from Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola funds the ILSI and leverages it to promote its commercial interests under a veil of scientific authority. ILSI funders include “Burger King, Cargill, Cadbury … Heinz, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, Masterfoods (Mars), Monsanto, Nabisco, Nestlé, NutraSweet, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Red Bull and Tate & Lyle.” Dr. Robert Lustig accurately described ILSI as a “front group for the food industry,” but the group also has been “used by certain tobacco companies to thwart tobacco control policies.”
Bowman’s CDC exit sets a precedent. If one CDC official cooperating with a Coca-Cola front group is a career-ending problem, what will happen to the other CDC officials blatantly cooperating with ILSI?
Who will be the Next Barbara Bowman?
They are too many to fully cover here, but here are several exclusive new cases that we have discovered of ILSI/CDC collaboration.
The most concerning example directly concerns CDC grant funding. In 2011 ILSI paid Barbara Mahon, deputy chief of the CDC’s Enteric Diseases Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, to, “Attend the International Life Sciences Institute North America (ILSI) roundtable to determine the most pressing research needs for the upcoming grant cycle, 3/15, Washington, DC.”
As you can see above, the ILSI paid a CDC official to attend an ILSI roundtable “to determine” where CDC should make research grants. Mahon’s field directly relates to ILSI’s industry interests. Contaminated food and water spread enteric diseases. Why is the food industry paying CDC officials to attend its conferences and determine where the CDC should spend federal funds in a field directly related to the food industry? Is this not an obvious conflict of interest?
If it’s a problem for Bowman to work with ILSI via email, what about CDC officials working for the ILSI directly? At least two CDC officials, Michael Pratt and Peter Gerner-Smidt, have served as “ILSI North America Scientific Advisors and Liaisons.” Here’s Pratt speaking at an ILSI event in 2015. Pratt has described the CDC as a “partner” of Exercise is Medicine, a Coca-Cola-founded partnership that forbids trainers from giving specific nutritional advice to their clients.
ILSI also covered nearly $3,000 worth of Janet Fulton’s expenses in 2010 to attend a Physical Activity and Health conference, co-sponsored by ILSI, in Beijing, China. Fulton is Chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch. These revelations will only increase as US Right to Know continues to make FOIA requests, and CrossFit Inc. continues to examine the CDC’s paperwork.
The American people deserve a public health program that effectively addresses the true causes of chronic disease and combats industry efforts to mislead it. We have the opposite.
Two questions remain:
1. How many CDC officials will get to keep their jobs?
2. Will the CDC National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion survive the inevitable Congressional investigation?
The scandals will continue to pile up. The CDC can choose to end its relationship with Coca-Cola or wait until it’s forced to.