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Heart Association Endorses Stomach Surgery After $100K Gift From Lap-Band Maker

The American Heart Association's statement in the respected medical journal Circulation that gastric banding for severely obese people outweighs the cardiac risks omits one important fact -- the AHA received $100,000 from Allergan (AGN), which makes the Lap-Band weight loss device, before becoming enthusiastic about bariatric surgery.

The statement does disclose that one author and one reviewer of the paper took more than $10,000 from Allergan in total grants and speaker fees, but it doesn't mention a donation 10 times that size that Allergan gave the AHA in fiscal year 2008-2009, according to the AHA's fiscal and annual reports.

Nor does it mention that Allergan is already using a quote by AHA vice chairman Robert Eckel in its marketing materials:

"Obesity itself has become a life-long disease, not a cosmetic issue, nor a moral judgment -- and it is becoming a dangerous epidemic." Robert H. Eckel, M.D., vice chairman of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee
The donations are working out well for Allergan: Bloomberg reported the AHA statement in Circulation without qualifying the financial conflict of interest that led up to it. The story even quoted Cathy Taylor, a spokeswoman for Allergan, lauding the AHA for its commitment to public health as if the Circulation item were a wild coincidence. It's not: Taylor's name is on the bottom of the same press release that Eckel's is on top of.

The AHA denied its science is biased but said it would more strictly police Allergan's use of its name (see comments below):

The development of scientific statements or guidelines by the American Heart Association is based on objective, evidence-based criteria.

The association's strict corporate relations and conflict of interest policies prevent any outside influence on any association activities including the development of scientific statements and ensure the impartiality of our scientific recommendations.

As a result, we have asked Allergan not to include any reference to the American Heart Association in their promotional materials.

Allergan has already been criticized for its aggressive marketing of the Lap-Band ever since it got expanded approval from the FDA to market the device for "less obese".

It's not that the AHA's position is wrong. It's just that the reason the AHA took the position at this time is completely concealed from anyone who reads Circulation.

This is the third strike for the AHA: In 2010 it declared the evidence against diabetes drug Avandia was "inconclusive" after taking $3.6 million from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The FDA later declared the drug riskier than its peers. In 2008, AHA put out a statement saying it did not believe Vytorin was "unsafe" after a study of the cholesterol drug found it did not reduce artery plaque. Only later did it highlight the fact that Schering-Plough and Merck (MRK), Vytorin's marketers, were big donors to AHA.

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