Public health groups' conflicts of interest attract new scrutiny

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"One such strategy is to make friends of those who could become influential critics. Typical strategies include sponsorship of research, conferences, and professional organizations, or inviting experts to join advisory boards."

Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, has skewered the American Dietetic Association for partnering with soda makers Coca-Cola and Pepsi. He called the new effort an "extremely useful endeavor."

"There are many areas of public health where corporations 'use' partnerships with or sponsorship of public health groups to improve their negative corporate images, which is an important part of these companies' marketing plans," Siegel told The Hill via email. "By allowing their good names to be used by these corporations for public relations purposes, the public health organizations are essentially serving as pawns in the marketing ploys of these companies."

"We are increasingly seeing other corporations borrowing this strategy right out of the Big Tobacco playbook," added Siegel, who used to work for the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Fast food and soft drink companies (Big Food) have widely adopted this tactic. So have many alcohol companies. So I think the effort to try to systematically investigate and document these connections is an important one."