Sugar Coated

This Baylor medical "expert" cashed in on infomercials. Now he's showing how things go better with Coke.

Nine years ago, John Foreyt, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine, was shown the cure for fatness.

To say he discovered it would be inaccurate. It was invented by Positive Power Products, a California-based company that teamed up with an infomercial production company to trumpet the majestic news to the world. Plus, that production company also ran infomercials hawking the Oak Ridge Boys' 25th anniversary album, so not only could you get thin, you could rock out to "Elvira," too.

They paid Foreyt to test the discovery in his lab, and he marveled at the initial results. The magical product -- yours for just $49.95 -- was AromaTrim, which can best be described as a piece of plastic scientifically engineered to stink like vomit. Whenever you got a craving for a cookie, you'd just wave the acrid agent under your nose and, presto, you lost your appetite.

Al Cameron

Sadly, the mainstream media and the American Medical Association ignored AromaTrim. Only the Houston Press was shrewd enough to interview Foreyt ("Stinkin' Diet," by Randall Patterson, December 28, 1995), who appeared on the infomercial. Unfortunately, the infomercial no longer runs, but the folks at Ridiculous Infomercial Review (infomercial.tvheaven.com) had the good sense to archive this scientific breakthrough.

The site includes testimonials from the infomercial. The best ones include "Just by using your sense of smell, you can really change your life," and "I would make me two or three baloney sandwiches with mustard and eat 'em. And I would feel guilty afterwards. But I had no control."

No control until AromaTrim, that is.

Foreyt's stamp of approval should've been gold for the company. As the director of Baylor's Nutrition Research Center, he is among the most widely quoted obesity experts in the nation. His latest endorsements are for the Coca-Cola Company, where he's a paid adviser for the company's new Beverage Institute For Health and Wellness, which is not an actual building but an office within the Minute Maid building near the Galleria.

Foreyt appears in Coke's Good Housekeeping print ads, called "newsletters," although nowhere is it mentioned that he's paid by the company for his work. Nor is it explained that he is not a medical doctor. The same thing happened a few years back, when he hawked Procter & Gamble snacks (including Pringles) containing olestra, a fat substitute that quickly dropped from the public eye after the ingredient became synonymous with the term "anal leakage."

AromaTrim. Olestra. Coke.

These are just three products or companies Foreyt, under the imprimatur of Baylor College of Medicine, is paid to promote.


The link between research and industry is nothing new; what's changed is the spin and the rate at which companies are aligning themselves with "leading experts." The New York Times recently reported that, in response to increased concern over nutrition and obesity, companies such as McDonald's, Kraft and Pepsi have created entities similar to Coke's Beverage Institute.

Merrill Goozner of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest says it's important for consumers to understand that many of these experts are compensated for their stamp of approval.

"I would just caution consumers to consider the source," Goozner says. "Just because a researcher is paid by industry doesn't mean that the research is automatically incorrect or even suspect. However, there is a demonstrated effect that researchers paid by industry tend to come to conclusions that favor the research sponsors."

The center tracks how much researchers are paid for their studies. Procter & Gamble paid Foreyt $30,000 in 1989-90 for an olestra pilot study. Hoffman-LaRoche paid him $411,297 for a two-year study on the weight-loss drug Xenical. After completing that study, Foreyt wrote The Xenical Advantage: How to Use the Remarkable New FDA-Approved Drug to Lose Weight Faster. The center did not have -- and Coca-Cola did not disclose -- the amount Foreyt is paid for his work with the Beverage Institute.

Foreyt was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Baylor College of Medicine also had no comment on Foreyt's work, but issued a statement on the college's position regarding conflicts of interest: "BCM investigators are prohibited from conducting research for which they have the prospect of financial profit if the study results are favorable."

Baylor's public affairs office was not aware that Foreyt wrote The Xenical Advantage after studying the drug for two years.

Coke's Beverage Institute was created last year with a mission to "help people all over the world lead healthier lives specifically through beverages," says institute head Don Short, who is also Minute Maid's president and CEO.

While almost every country has some sort of food pyramid, not one has a beverage pyramid, and beverage science is uncharted territory, Short says. So Coca-Cola took it upon itself to come up with more nutritional drinks, like Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice. But there's so much more to learn.

"There are a lot of people that think that a kid performs better when they're properly hydrated in school, so that's something that we want to know more about," Short says.

Which begs the question: With skyrocketing levels of childhood obesity, what are Coke's soft drinks doing in school systems throughout the country, including HISD? What are the nutritional benefits of knocking back a can or two of Mr. Pibb during study hall?

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