By: Danielle Friend, Ph.D.
Health Policy Conflict of Interest
Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets
Coca-Cola recently released statements indicating that they have given more than $118 million in funding to health-related projects with approximately $22 million allocated to health research. A complete list of projects funded by Coco-Cola can be found here. The release of these numbers is presumed to be in response to growing fears and complaints regarding the possibility of biased influence of food and beverage companies support on nutrition research. Additionally, the New York Times reports that Coco-Cola recently used $1.5 million to help create the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that emphasizes the importance of physical activity rather than diet in weight control and maintenance. The Global Energy Balance Network has partnered internationally with scientists to help spread the message that “weight conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.” Conversely, health experts state that Coco-Cola’s message is misleading and is an effort to reduce the responsibility that companies like Coco-Cola have played in developing sugary drinks that contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Sales of sugary drinks have significantly sank in the last few years and companies like Coco-Cola are likely using this new tactic to encourage health-conscience consumers to focus more one exercise than diet in relation to weight loss and maintenance but clearly brings up concerns about the ethics of this tactic. (Anahad O’Connor, New York Times)
Dr. Insel to leave NIH, headed for Google
The director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Tom Insel, recently announced that he will be leaving his position after 13 years to join the Google Life Science team (GLS). During his time at the NIH, Dr. Insel is credited for shifting the field of mental health toward a more biology based, biomarker approach. In particular, Dr. Insel’s work at the NIH has focused on trials demonstrating that many of the medications that are currently available to treat mental illness are not as effective as previous thought. When asked what type of projects Dr. Insel will be leading at GLS, he responded that the projects were currently still undefined but would likely involve the development of technology that could aid in public health by tracking and predicting behavior related to mental illnesses. Tom also stated that the “GLS mission is about creating technology that can help with earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions. I am joining the team to explore how this mission can be applied to mental illness.” Google Life Sciences is currently a division of Google X and will soon become a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., a conglomerate of several companies linked to Google.
Water on Mars
Scientist at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed this week that they have identified liquid water on Mars. The news was announced by James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division. This news is especially exciting to those who are interested in examining whether life exists on other planets. “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on mars to thoroughly investigate that”, Green states. The house committee on Science, Space, and Technology held hearings on Tuesday titled “Astrobiology and the Search for Life Beyond Earth in the Next Decade” with the mission of reviewing scientific methods to be used to search for life, examine recent scientific discoveries in the field of astrobiology, and to assess the prospects of finding life beyond Earth over the next decade. Much of the hearings will focus on the Mars Exploration Program. (Kenneth Chang, New York Times)
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