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An Epidemic of Obesity Myths
David Allison: The Man Behind the Numbers

Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former New England Journal of Medicine Editor-in-Chief, notes:
On the question of obesity, physicians have been extensively involved with the pharmaceutical industry, especially opinion leaders and in the high ranks of academia. The involvement was in many instances quite deep. It involved consulting, service on speaker’s bureaus, and service on advisory boards. And at the same time some of these financially conflicted individuals were producing biased obesity materials, biased obesity lectures, and biased obesity articles in major journals."
A slide from a presentation by David Allison

Kassirer’s comment describes, among others, prominent obesity researcher David Allison, who was the lead author of the 1999 JAMA study that concluded obesity was responsible for 300,000 deaths in 1990. Allison has accepted funding from virtually every major business in the weight-loss industry. That includes big drug companies that make weight-loss pills like Xenical and Meridia, popular diet companies like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Slim-Fast Foods, and the makers of the deadly "fen-phen" appetite suppressant combination—as well as the lawyers who defended those companies in court.

The CDC’s now-discredited study upped the supposed obesity death toll to 400,000, noting: "We used the same procedure reported by Allison et al. to estimate annual overweight-attributable deaths." But JAMA noted when it published Allison’s deeply flawed study that he "has received grants, honoraria, monetary and product donations, was a consultant to, and has contracts or other commitments with numerous organizations involving weight control products and services."

According to a financial disclosure he offered in a supplementary issue of Obesity Research, Allison has received money or other support from an overwhelming number of companies hoping to profit from obesity. An article in Scientific American reports that he "discloses payments from 148 such companies."

    Here is a partial list of Allison’s supporters:
  • Bristol Myers-Squibb (investigating compound SLV319 for use in anti-obesity drug)
  • Eon Labs Manufacturing, Inc. (made the phentermine portion of fen-phen)
  • Fisons Corporation (produced the phentermine half of fen-phen combination)
  • Glaxo (sells weight-loss drug Xenical in the United States)
  • Hoffman-La Roche (produces Xenical)
  • Interneuron (produced weight-loss drug Redux)
  • Jenny Craig
  • Johnson & Johnson (multiple weight-loss interests, including bariatric surgical staples)
  • Knoll Pharmaceuticals (made weight-loss drug Meridia)
  • Ligand Pharmaceuticals (works with Lilly Research labs on obesity products)
  • Lilly Research Labs (intracellular receptor technology to be used for anti-obesity drugs)
  • McKenna & Cuneo LLP (fen-phen legal defense team)
  • Medeva Pharmaceuticals (produced the phentermine half of fen-phen combination)
  • Millennium Pharmaceuticals (investigated multiple anti-obesity compounds)
  • NutriSystems (weight-loss plans)
  • NutriPharma (ScanDiet)
  • Ortho-McNeill Pharmaceuticals (sells Topamax, an epilepsy medication prescribed off-label for weight loss)
  • Pfizer Central Research (currently has 24 novel compounds and 12 product enhancements in antiobesity drug development pipeline)
  • RW Johnson Pharmaceuticals Research
  • Institute (sells Topamax)
  • Schering-Plough (anti-obesity drug "ecopipam" in trials)
  • Servier Amerique (produced dexfenfluramine portion of fen-phen)
  • SlimFast Foods
  • Tanita (sells scales, body-fat monitors)
  • Weight Watchers International
  • Wellcome Trust (hormone PYY3-36 under investigation for weight loss)