Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Obesity researcher steps aside

David B. Allison said criticism of his role in a N.Y. restaurant case swayed him on leadership.

David B. Allison, the president-elect of the Obesity Society, the nation's leading group of obesity researchers, will not be taking the job after receiving widespread criticism for siding with the New York State Restaurant Association in an ongoing court case last month.

Allison, a professor of biostatistics and nutrition at the University of Alabama, made the announcement in an e-mail to colleagues late Friday.

Allison had served as a paid expert for the restaurant association in its fight to keep the New York City Department of Health from requiring chain restaurants to post calories of its offerings on overhead menu boards.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has introduced a similar measure, which is pending.

Several obesity researchers said they believed that Allison had crossed the line into paid advocacy and that his paid expert work for the restaurant industry was incompatible with serving as president of the Obesity Society, which has 1,800 influential researchers and dietitians.

In his e-mail, Allison declared that he stood behind statements he made that there was no clear evidence that calorie postings would work. But making those comments in the midst of becoming president "was a serious political error" because some could construe that he was speaking for the society, he wrote.

"While a great many of you have contacted me to voice tremendous support for both me and my actions, enough of you have expressed doubts that I no longer feel I am the best leader," he wrote.

Current society president Gary D. Foster, director of the Center For Obesity, Research and Education at Temple University, sent an accompanying e-mail, accepting Allison's withdrawal and praising him as "an exceptionally gifted and productive scientist."

The relationship between academic researchers and industry is a hot issue in many fields. Congressional inquiries are looking at drug-firm support for the American College of Cardiology, the national cardiology group and the American Heart Association.

The Obesity Society, based in Silver Spring, Md., relies heavily on industry money for its $2.1 annual budget. The group raised about $1 million in the last year from various companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, executive director Morgan Downey has said.