A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity,” drew lots of news attention.
The authors reported:
We identified seven obesity-related myths concerning the effects of small sustained increases in energy intake or expenditure, establishment of realistic goals for weight loss, rapid weight loss, weight-loss readiness, physical-education classes, breast-feeding, and energy expended during sexual activity. We also identified six presumptions about the purported effects of regularly eating breakfast, early childhood experiences, eating fruits and vegetables, weight cycling, snacking, and the built (i.e., human-made) environment. Finally, we identified nine evidence-supported facts that are relevant for the formulation of sound public health, policy, or clinical recommendations.
False and scientifically unsupported beliefs about obesity are pervasive in both scientific literature and the popular press.
“Independent researchers say the authors have some valid points. But many of the report’s authors also have deep financial ties to food, beverage and weight-loss product makers – the disclosures take up half a page of fine print in the journal.
“It raises questions about what the purpose of this paper is” and whether it’s aimed at promoting drugs, meal replacement products and bariatric surgery as solutions, said Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of nutrition and food studies.
“The big issues in weight loss are how you change the food environment in order for people to make healthy choices,” such as limits on soda sizes and marketing junk food to children, she said. Some of the myths they cite are “straw men” issues, she said.”
In an NBC story, Nestle said, “I can’t understand the point of the paper unless it’s to say that the only things that work are drugs, bariatric surgery, and meal replacements, all of which are made by companies with financial ties to the authors. ”
And here is the list of disclosures in the NEJM paper:
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Supported in part by a grant (P30DK056336) from the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Astrup reports receiving payment for board membership from the Global Dairy Platform, Kraft Foods, Knowledge Institute for Beer, McDonald’s Global Advisory Council, Arena Pharmaceuticals, Basic Research, Novo Nordisk, Pathway Genomics, Jenny Craig, and Vivus; receiving lecture fees from the Global Dairy Platform, Novo Nordisk, Danish Brewers Association, GlaxoSmithKline, Danish Dairy Association, International Dairy Foundation, European Dairy Foundation, and AstraZeneca; owning stock in Mobile Fitness; holding patents regarding the use of flaxseed mucilage or its active component for suppression of hunger and reduction of prospective consumption (patents EP1744772, WO2009033483-A1, EP2190303-A1, US2010261661-A1, and priority applications DK001319, DK001320, S971798P, and US971827P); holding patents regarding the use of an alginate for the preparation of an aqueous dietary product for the treatment or prevention of overweight and obesity (patent WO2011063809-A1 and priority application DK070227); and holding a patent regarding a method for regulating energy balance for body-weight management (patent WO2007062663-A1 and priority application DK001710). Drs. Brown and Bohan Brown report receiving grant support from the Coca-Cola Foundation through their institution. Dr. Mehta reports receiving grant support from Kraft Foods. Dr. Newby reports receiving grant support from General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition. Dr. Pate reports receiving consulting fees from Kraft Foods. Dr. Rolls reports having a licensing agreement for the Volumetrics trademark with Jenny Craig. Dr. Thomas reports receiving consulting fees from Jenny Craig. Dr. Allison reports serving as an unpaid board member for the International Life Sciences Institute of North America; receiving payment for board membership from Kraft Foods; receiving consulting fees from Vivus, Ulmer and Berne, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, Garrison, Chandler Chicco, Arena Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, National Cattlemen’s Association, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Frontiers Foundation, Orexigen Therapeutics, and Jason Pharmaceuticals; receiving lecture fees from Porter Novelli and the Almond Board of California; receiving payment for manuscript preparation from Vivus; receiving travel reimbursement from International Life Sciences Institute of North America; receiving other support from the United Soybean Board and the Northarvest Bean Growers Association; receiving grant support through his institution from Wrigley, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Vivus, Jason Pharmaceuticals, Aetna Foundation, and McNeil Nutritionals; and receiving other funding through his institution from the Coca-Cola Foundation, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Red Bull, World Sugar Research Organisation, Archer Daniels Midland, Mars, Eli Lilly and Company, and Merck. No other potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.
What does this disclosure tell us? Is this meaningful to those who read the NEJM article? Is it meaningful to readers of stories like the AP story to learn that so many authors had so many potential conflicts to disclose?
We welcome your thoughts.
ADDENDUM ON FEB. 5: See Kevin Lomangino’s followup analysis, “Should we trust the New England Journal of Medicine obesity mythbusters?”
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