US Diet Panel Adds Another Researcher With Alcohol Industry Ties

US Diet Panel Adds Another Researcher With Alcohol Industry Ties

Shortly after dismissing two Harvard scientists with financial conflicts of interest, the national organization that convenes a committee charged with evaluating the evidence on alcohol use and health chose four new panelists, including another professor from Harvard who also has financial ties to the alcohol industry.

The committee’s work, under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, will be used to update the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines, which advise Americans on nutrition and diet, including about how much they should or shouldn’t drink.

Scientists at universities across North America study the health effects of alcohol, and many do not accept industry funding. The National Academies instead chose two Harvard colleagues who also published research strongly suggesting that drinking in moderation is good for your health, critics said.

“How could they appoint someone with a history of alcohol funding after removing the other two because of alcohol funding? said Dr. Michael B. Siegel, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Siegel has long been a critic of industry-funded alcohol research.

Many of the committee’s other 12 interim members are experts in biostatistics and data analysis whose research does not primarily focus on alcohol and health. (One studies the impact of alcohol on prenatal health.) So Harvard researchers will likely exert influence on the committee, Dr. Siegel said.

While it is undeniable that excessive alcohol consumption is bad for your health, some studies have shown cardiovascular benefits from moderate consumption. But in recent years, critics have questioned the methodology used in some of these studies, many of which were carried out by scientists who received financial support from groups funded by the alcohol industry.

Last year, the World Heart Federation released a report stating that even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk from cancer, injuries and heart disease, including coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure.

In 2020, when the US dietary guidelines were last updated, the government rejected the advice of its scientific advisors to recommend a reduction in alcohol consumption. Guidelines now recommend one drink per day for women and two for men.

“There used to be a consensus that moderate alcohol consumption had health benefits. Now there’s no consensus, there’s controversy,” said Tim Stockwell, a scientist at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, whose own work challenges the idea that it There are benefits to consuming moderately.

“But if there is controversy, bring in an expert on each side,” he added. Several organizations and individuals had suggested Mr Stockwell to serve on the committee, but he said he had never been approached.

Canadian health authorities dramatically revised their drinking guidelines last year, saying no level of alcohol consumption is healthy and urging people to cut back as much as they can.

“I think they’re worried that American dietary guidelines will follow Canada’s lead,” Dr. Stockwell said of the industry.

Among the four new nominees is Dr. Luc Djousse, an associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, who has studied the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on cardiovascular disease.

Although he received grants from the National Institutes of Health for his work, he also was funded by the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation, an industrial group. He was recently a guest speaker at a Beer and Health Symposium implemented by beer manufacturers.

Dr. Djousse is also a member of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, an organization formerly closely linked to the alcohol industry, and he signed a letter written on behalf of the organization and published in a medical journal. The group says it no longer receives money from the alcohol industry.

He co-authored several papers with Dr. Kenneth Mukamal and Dr. Eric Rimm, the Harvard researchers whose applications were withdrawn last month.

Dr. Djousse did not respond to requests for comment; Neither does Todd Datz, director of communications for the TH Chan School of Public Health.

Dana Korsen, director of media relations at the National Academies, said the list of committee members remains tentative until the public comment period that ends Thursday. The first meeting of the committee is scheduled for the following day.

Ms. Korsen did not directly respond to questions about whether Dr. Djousse was funded by the alcohol industry. “As with all study committees, the first meeting will include a discussion about complying with our conflict of interest and disclosure policies,” she said in an email.

She declined to provide the names of national academies officials directly involved in the appointments and declined requests for an interview with them.

A lack of transparency “raises the question of whether the national academies have found themselves once again co-opted,” said Diane Riibe, co-founder of the American Alcohol Policy Alliance, which translates policy research regarding alcohol in public health practices.

Dr. Djousse co-authored several articles on moderate alcohol consumption and its purported benefits with Dr. Mukamal, who led a $100 million clinical trial on moderate alcohol consumption intended to settle questions about its benefits or its disadvantages.

In 2018, the National Institutes of Health canceled the trial after The New York Times reported that Dr. Mukamal and officials at the NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism had requested $68 million dollars to alcohol and beer manufacturers to fund research, a conflict of interest and violation of federal policy.

“Dr. Djousse is a close colleague of Dr. Mukamal,” Dr. Siegel wrote in a recent blog post. “Having him on the panel is the next best thing to having Dr. Mukamal himself.”

The other Harvard nominee is Dr. Carlos Camargo, a professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology who has also studied moderate alcohol consumption and served as chair of the alcohol committee for the USDA Dietary Guidelines from 2005.

He too has co-authored numerous articles with Dr. Mukamal on the benefits of light alcohol consumption. I declined a request for comment, referring a reporter to the National Academies.

The other two new nominees are Dr. Bruce N. Calonge, associate dean for public health practice at the Colorado School of Public Health and chief medical officer of the state Department of Public Health and Environment of Colorado, who was tentatively selected to lead the committee; and Linda Snetselaar, professor of epidemiology and director of the Nutrition Center at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Members of the public has until the end of Thursday to comment on applications. Ms. Korsen, of the National Academies, did not respond to questions about how the organization would review public comments received less than 24 hours before the committee’s first meeting.

The committee’s task is to review the cumulative evidence on the relationship between alcohol consumption and a wide range of health problems, including obesity, cancer, heart disease, cognitive health, and all-cause mortality. .

It will also examine the effects of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding, including the impact on postpartum weight loss, milk composition and quantity, and infant development.

Although moderate consumption, particularly of red wine, has long enjoyed a health halo, more rigorous research in recent years and concerns about industry funding have raised doubts.

Even light alcohol consumption can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer as well as a common type of esophageal cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a significantly higher risk of mouth and throat cancers, voice box cancer, liver cancer and, to a lesser extent, colorectal cancers.

The National Academies have never been involved in updating the dietary guidelines, but Congress allocated them $1.3 million to do this work. Dr. Siegel called for an investigation into the formation of the committee, now that industry-linked researchers have twice been appointed.

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David B.Otero

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