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Anti-aging medicine and Coca-cola partnerships: What you need to know about CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald

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Many if not most of Donald Trump’s health agency appointments have raised questions about their ability to represent the interests of the American people. As a senator, Tom Price regularly traded health care stocks that were affected by legislation he voted on. FDA director Scott Gottlieb has had numerous financial conflicts of interest with the industry the FDA is supposed to regulate.

Now we have the President’s nominee for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency charged with producing recommendations to promote the public’s health. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s views in favor of vaccines and family planning have some public health advocates sighing in relief, but other aspects of her clinical practice and her behavior as Georgia public health commissioner should be ringing alarm bells.

Peddling “anti-aging” snake oil

Fitzgerald, a practicing gynecologist is also, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health Website, a “Fellow in Anti-Aging Medicine.” There is no certification board for regenerative medicine, which has never been formally recognized as a medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Anti-aging physicians dispense supplements and hormone replacement treatments to increase longevity and lessen the effects of aging, a practice that other physicians and scientists have criticized.

The anti-aging movement takes advantage of patients’ anxieties to peddle unproven therapies that can cause serious harm. Yet despite warnings from experts and the FDA, anti-aging medicine has become a lucrative multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Partnering with Coke against obesity

Also worrisome is Fitzgerald’s former partnership with industry. As the public health commissioner of Georgia, Fitzgerald accepted funding from the Coca-Cola Foundation to create the “Power Up For 30” program, which encourages schools to give students 30 more minutes of exercise a day. While there’s no doubt that more physical activity would benefit kids, the Power Up For 30 website makes no mention of reducing soda consumption, which is known to contribute to childhood obesity.

Even before Fitzgerald takes the helm, the CDC has had a complicated relationship with industry. While CDC recommendations include a disclaimer that the agency and its experts do not accept commercial support, in fact, the CDC receives “millions of dollars in industry gifts and funding,” writes Jeanne Lenzer in The BMJ. Former CDC director Tom Frieden justified this funding, saying, “Public-private partnerships allow the CDC to do more, faster.” Among these commercial funders are Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co, both of which contributed funding to the CDC between 2011 and 2015.

Fitzgerald’s history of partnering with the Coca-Cola Foundation signals that such conflicts of interest will probably not decline at the CDC under her tenure. In fact, Fitzgerald told The New York Times that she would “consider accepting Coke money for CDC programs.”

The CDC “needs someone who supports public health recommendations that are based on science,” said Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, quoted in Forbes. The agency’s recommendations should also not be based on the interests of corporate sponsors.

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