The Government's anti-obesity guru was at the centre of a sleaze row last night after it was revealed he has been paid undisclosed consultancy fees by makers of weight-loss drugs. — The Mail On Sunday, March 6, 2005
Millions of readers across the pond learned last weekend about pharmaceutical companies hyping the health risks of obesity in the hopes of encouraging sales of their weight-loss drugs. The Daily Mail exposed financial conflicts of interest of International Obesity Task Force chairman Philip James, who has participated in U.S. conferences to promote obesity lawsuits and was largely responsible for planning the UK's fight against obesity. The paper noted:
While issuing warnings that obesity has become an 'epidemic', he has been the leading researcher in trials of weight-loss drugs and has been paid fees by pharmaceutical firms that stand to make billions of pounds from slimming pills and potions … Prof James's task force receives 75 per cent of its £626,000 annual income from drug companies, including international pharmaceutical giants F. Hoffman-La Roche and Abbott Laboratories, which are thanked in its annual report for their 'generous contributions'. The IOTF has also received contributions from Servier, the pharmaceutical company that produces the weight-loss drug Redux.
How important was this man with clear motives to hype obesity? The Daily Mail reports that James, "who refuses to say how much he has been paid by drugs firms, wrote proposals to set up the Food Standards Agency for Tony Blair." Providing a classic understatement, UK Shadow Health Minister Simon Burns responded to the news by stating: "We should have known the full details of Prof James's involvement before he was appointed a special adviser to the Health Select Committee." Closer to home, there have been a few recent cases in which weight-loss companies influence the obesity debate through nonprofit organizations. The American Cancer Society's 2005 "Great American Weigh-In" last week was sponsored by Weight Watchers. Those wishing to have their Body Mass Index checked were instructed to go to Weight Watchers centers to be told whether or not they were fat. And just two days ago, the Endocrine Society released its "consensus statement on childhood obesity," urging that the condition be officially considered a "disease" and calling for reimbursement of weight-loss treatments. The Endocrine Society has received at least $100,000 each from Aventis, Eli Lilly, Knoll, Novartis, Pfizer, Abbot, Genetch, Pfizer, Roche, and Wyeth-Ayerst — all of whom are involved in developing and selling weight-loss products.