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An Epidemic of Obesity Myths
North American Association for the Study of Obesity

NAASO and its parent, the International Association for the Study of Obesity, shape professional notions about obesity by publishing the top two journals on the subject.
The North American Association for the Study of Obesity is a professional organization representing the interests of clinicians and physicians treating obesity. Past NAASO president Barbara Rolls acknowledged that "most of our donations come from a number of pharmaceutical companies." In 1996, a NAASO newsletter noted that its Corporate Advisory Board consisted of representatives from contributing companies: Amgen, Eli Lilly, Roche, Interneuron, Knoll, Procter & Gamble Co., Slim-Fast Foods, and Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories.

According to NAASO Executive Director Edward Bernstein, obesity is a good industry to be in: "There's no disease state in existence that represents such a large market."

In 1998, an unrestricted grant from Knoll allowed NAASO to conduct "an extensive public relations campaign" that "helped NAASO shape news reports about obesity with key messages." NAASO's newsletter reported that this campaign involved targeting "more than 700 health and medical reporters at major print, television, trade publications, and radio outlets," as well as members of Congress. NAASO's "Practical Guide" for understanding obesity was distributed by Knoll to all attendees of an annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

NAASO also influences doctors through its industry-funded continuing medical education (CME) classes. Sanofi-Aventis, which is currently testing its weight-loss pill Acomplia, sponsors a NAASO-run CME course titled "Understanding and Treating Obesity." Which researchers reviewed this course to ensure the best possible education for America's physicians? One was Xavier Pi-Sunyer, the lead Acomplia researcher. Another, Steven Haffner, was a consultant for Sanofi and a member of the speakers' bureaus for Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and AstraZeneca. Roche, meanwhile, helped to fund NAASO's CD-ROM "Clinical Management of Obesity," featuring AOA board member emeritus George Bray. Abbott, maker of Meridia, sponsored a NAASO CME project called "Office Management of Obesity."

NAASO and its parent, the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO), shape professional notions about obesity by publishing the top two journals on the subject. NAASO's Obesity Research has been edited by the group's founder, former CORE unit director George Bray, and by Pi-Sunyer. Meanwhile, AOA's Atkinson edits IASO's International Journal of Obesity, along with editorial board members such as Pi-Sunyer and David Allison.

IASO oversees the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), which makes recommendations to the World Health Organization. IOTF panels have been populated by top industry-funded obesity researchers such as Pi-Sunyer, Weight Watchers advisory board member Shiriki Kumanyika, Phillip James, and William Dietz, currently director of the CDC's division of nutrition and physical activity. IOTF has stated it "would like to acknowledge the financial support received in the form of educational grants from Hoffman-La Roche, BASF Knoll and Servier." Britain's Daily Mail reported that three-quarters of IOTF's funding comes from the pharmaceutical industry.