In 2013, a Gallup poll on public perceptions of U.S. agencies found Americans are most positive toward the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 Sixty percent of those polled believed the CDC was doing an excellent or good job while only 8 percent rated them poorly.
There is clearly a disconnect between the CDC’s perceived image and the actual state of the agency. While their website claims the “CDC works for you 24/7,” they have fallen far short of achieving their motto of “Savings Lives. Protecting People.”2
CDC’s Cozy Ties With Coca-Cola
The CDC should be cracking down on corporations promoting products linked to poor health and disease. Instead, they appear to have taken Coca-Cola, a leader in the production of sugar-sweetened beverages linked to obesity and chronic disease, under their protective wing.
Earlier this year, for instance, Barbara Bowman, Ph.D., former director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP), left the agency unexpectedly, two days after her close ties with Coca-Cola were revealed.
Bowman reportedly aided a Coca-Cola representative in efforts to influence World Health Organization (WHO) officials to relax recommendations on sugar limits.3 Bowman, however, was not the only CDC official looking out for Coca-Cola.
Uncovered emails also suggest that Dr. Michael Pratt, senior adviser for Global Health in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC, has also promoted and led research for the soda giant.4
At issue are Pratt’s ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is a nonprofit front group serving the interests of the food and beverage industries. ILSI was founded by a Coca-Cola executive in 1978, and it has long been a champion for the junk-food industry.
For instance, one of the items on their agenda is to promote the concept of “energy balance,” which is the suggestion that exercise, and not sugary beverages and other sugar-laden foods, is responsible for obesity and chronic disease.
CDC Senior Adviser Working With a Coca-Cola and Food Industry Front Group?
Pratt’s ties to research backed by Coca-Cola and ILSI should raise more than a few eyebrows. According to The Hill:5
“He co-authored a Latin America health and nutrition study and related papers funded in part by Coca-Cola and ILSI; he has been acting as a scientific ‘advisor’ to ILSI North America, serving on an ILSI committee on ‘energy balance and active lifestyle.’
Until his activities came under scrutiny, he was listed as a member of the ILSI Research Foundation Board of Trustees (his bio was removed from the website … [in September 2016]). Pratt also served as an advis[e]r to an international study of childhood obesity funded by Coca-Cola.
And for roughly the last year or more he has held a position as a professor at Emory University, a private research university in Atlanta that has received millions of dollars from Coca-Cola entities.”
It’s likely impossible to quantify what effects such close ties with industry have on public health policy and the health messages being sent out to Americans. While Pratt is no longer working at Emory University, he is now reportedly going to be the director of the University of San Diego’s (UCSD) Institute for Public Health.
Ironically (or perhaps not), UCSD is going to be partnering with ISLI on a forum related to energy balance behavior — to be moderated, in part, by another CDC official, Janet Fulton, chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch.6