Be wary of big money, health groups are warned
Corporate funding could skew research
By Michelle Healy
USA Today –
Non-profit health groups that
accept money from corporations may gain valuable resources, but they also risk
their credibility and independence, a report says.
More than 170 charities, professionals
associations and university-based institutes benefit from corporate financial
support, but they need to consider the downsides to such arrangements, says the
report, "Lifting the Veil of Secrecy," by the Center for Science in
the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. The
support comes from food, agribusiness, chemical, pharmaceutical and other
At one time, "the public had
confidence that health charities and health professional groups were operating
totally in the public’s interest to promote better public health," says
Michael Jacobson, the center's executive director. “Then out comes little bits
of information suggesting that these arrangements have strings attached."
For example, the report points to
the American Medical Association's endorsement deal with medical equipment
supplier Sunbeam. After negative
publicity, the AMA canceled that deal.
The report also notes that the
Society for Women's Health Research came to the defense of a major benefactor, Wyeth, when the safety of hormone replacement therapy was
questioned. The society also lent its name to a Novartis
campaign to market a drug for irritable bowel syndrome.
One "particularly egregious
relationship," the report says, is this year's $1 million grant from CocaCola to the American
Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
"Previously, (the academy)
said soft drinks were a cause of tooth erosion, and then $1 million later they
said the relationship is unclear," Jacobson says. "Coke has silenced
a critic and maybe even won an ally."
"It's absolutely not
true" that the academy shifted on its policy, says Joel Berg, president of
the American Academy of
The unrestricted grant is being
used for oral health research and education, Berg says.
"To suggest that the
arrangement would influence our position is ludicrous," he says. "Our
mission, our integrity is such that we wouldn't accept (the grant) with any
It is naive to think that every
group that gets industry funding has sold out, Jacobson says. "That's clearly
not the case." But each group that takes this money "needs to
consider the issue carefully,” he says.
"At the very least, the
public has a right to expect full disclosure of all their sources of