Monday, May 20

The US Diet Panel adds another researcher with ties to the alcohol industry

Shortly after firing two Harvard scientists with financial conflicts of interest, the national organization that assembles a panel to evaluate the evidence on alcohol use and health has chosen four new panelists, including another Harvard professor who also has ties financial with 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 how much they should or should not 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 that strongly suggests that drinking in moderation is good for you, 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 is a longtime critic of industry-funded alcohol research.

Many of the other 12 provisional members of the committee are experts in biostatistics and data analysis; one focuses research on the impact of alcohol on prenatal health. Therefore, Harvard researchers are likely to exert influence on the committee, Dr. Siegel said.

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

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

In 2020, when the U.S. Dietary Guidelines were last updated, the government rejected the advice of its scientific advisors to recommend less alcohol consumption. Guidelines now recommend consuming one drink a day for women, two for men.

“There was once a consensus that moderate drinking 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 work disputes the idea that there are benefits to moderate drinking.

“But if there is a dispute, call an expert for each side,” he added. Several organizations and individuals had recommended Mr Stockwell for the committee, but he said he was never contacted.

Canadian health officials last year dramatically revised their guidelines on alcohol consumption, saying that no level of alcohol consumption is healthy and urging people to cut back as much as possible.

“I think they’re worried that the U.S. 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 was also funded by the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation, an industry group. He was recently a featured speaker at the brewers’ symposium on beer and health.

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

He co-wrote several papers with Dr. Kenneth Mukamal and Dr. Eric Rimm, the Harvard researchers whose applications were removed from consideration last month.

Dr. Djousse did not respond to requests for comment; nor did Todd Datz, communications manager at the TH Chan School of Public Health.

Dana Korsen, director of media relations at the National Academies, said the committee’s list remained tentative during a public comment period that ends Thursday. The first committee meeting is scheduled for the following day.

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

He declined to provide the names of National Academies officials directly involved in the nominations and declined requests for interviews with them.

A lack of transparency “raises the question of whether the National Academies have found themselves co-opted once again,” said Diane Riibe, co-founder of the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance, which translates alcohol policy research into public health practices .

Dr. Djousse has written several articles on moderate alcohol consumption and its purported benefits along with Dr. Mukamal, who conducted a $100 million clinical study on moderate alcohol consumption that was supposed to resolve doubts about its benefits or harms.

In 2018, the National Institutes of Health canceled the trial after The New York Times reported that Dr. Mukamal and officials at the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism had solicited $68 million from manufacturers of alcohol and beer to underwrite the research, a conflict of interest, and a 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 committee 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 was chair of the alcohol committee for the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines.

He too has written numerous articles with Dr. Mukamal discovering the benefits of light drinking. He declined a request for comment, directing 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 medical director of the state of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who has been 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 have until the end of the day Thursday to comment on the nominations. Ms. Korsen, of the National Academies, did not respond to questions about how the organization will review public comments that arrive less than 24 hours before the committee’s first meeting.

The committee’s job 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. causes.

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

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

Even light drinking can slightly increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, as well as a common type of esophageal cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to a significantly increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, laryngeal cancer, liver cancer and, to a lesser extent, colorectal cancer.

The National Academies were never involved in updating the dietary guidelines, but Congress appropriated $1.3 million to do the work. Dr Siegel called for an investigation into the committee’s formation now that researchers with industry ties have been appointed twice.