CDC director's partnership with Coca-Cola on state obesity program draws fire from public health experts

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While serving as Georgia's top public health official in 2012, recently appointed CDC Director Brenda Fitzegerald, MD, spearheaded a campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the state, reports The Washington Post.

The campaign, partly funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation, promoted physical activity among children, but made little mention of the potential health concerns related to the consumption of sugary beverages. Now, as CDC chief, some public health advocates are concerned Dr. Fitzgerald's approach to tackling national obesity could mirror her work in Georgia.  

"We hope Dr. Fitzgerald, as head of CDC, avoids partnering with Coke on obesity for the same reason she would avoid partnering with the tobacco industry on lung cancer prevention," Jim O'Hara, director of health promotion policy at the Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Post.

Mr. O'Hara suggested Coca-Cola's approach is designed to use grants "to buy friends and silence potential critics" by placing an added emphasis on exercising and diverting public attention away from the health risks associated with sugary drinks.

"At CDC, as at the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Fitzgerald recognizes that public-private partnerships can be powerful tools that help extend public health's reach and ability to save lives, solve problems and speed innovation," said CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben in a statement obtained by the Post. "CDC has a focus on scientific integrity and a deep commitment to ethical, innovative partnerships that advance the agency's lifesaving mission."

To read The Washington Post's full report, click here.

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