Thursday, June 26, 2008

Penn State and Ethics Go Together Like Herring and Whipped Cream

Earlier this month it came to light that Penn State refused to take part in a survey on conflict of interest rules for doctors that deal with drug companies. Therefore it shouldn't be of any surprise that Penny Kris-Etherton, a distinguished professor of nutrition at the University who is pimping the health benefits of chocolate with the help of Penn State's massive propaganda shop, has received research money from Hershey.

Her latest sales pitch can be found in Research/Penn State, but it isn't the first. Last summer she was pitching away at Penn State's Research Unplugged series. On her own, she's reached a national audience back in 2000 on CNN. You can also find smaller outlets picking up on her research. But what you won't find is any indication in any of these places that she's received research funds from Hershey. To find that out you have to rely on the University of Minnesota's alumni magazine.
One of today’s top researchers on chocolate is Penny Kris-Etherton (Ph.D. ’78), a distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University. Much of Kris-Etherton’s research has made recent headlines, some of it thanks to funding from the local chocolate industry, which includes Hershey’s in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Kris-Etherton’s research team found that cocoa’s polyphenol antioxidants, particularly its concentration of flavonoids, may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. (Antioxidants are beneficial compounds that scientists say may prevent heart disease. Cocoa contains about eight times the level of polyphenols of that in strawberries and also more than in Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other leafy greens, citrus fruits, and berries. As for flavonoids, a particular type of antioxidant, a 40-gram bar of dark chocolate is equivalent to six apples, four and a half cups of tea, 28 glasses of white wine, or two glasses of red wine.)

Kris-Etherton was also behind recent findings about cocoa butter’s unusual saturated vegetable fat called stearic acid. Unlike most saturated fats, stearic acid, a natural cocoa component, doesn’t appear to increase the cholesterol level in blood. And she co-authored the 2001 paper about cocoa’s favorable effects on artery-clogging LDL, commonly known as “bad cholesterol.” When combined with a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, products containing cocoa powder and dark chocolate may inhibit atherosclerosis, the report suggests, keeping the arteries from hardening.
At least, one school understands the concept of conflict of interest.

Of course, all of Kris-Etherton's public appearences on behalf of the health benefits of chocolates dovetails rather nicely with Hershey's marketing of the health benefits of chocolate.
The Hershey Company designed a distinctive antioxidant seal, which is found on the packaging of all Hershey's Goodness Chocolate products.
"A few of the large chocolate manufacturers have started to label the flavanol content of some dark chocolates on the front of the package. You can also check the Web site or contact the company to find out if the chocolate contains bioactive compounds,"

Kris-Etherton's research findings may or may not be correct, however consumers need to know that she has a reason to shade the truth because of who is paying her research bills. Penn State administrators should know this and shouldn't be helping her spread the gospel according to Hershey or at the very least should prominantly note her funding sources.

But part of Graham's Land Grant vision for Penn State is to open up the University's research labs to corporations. Looking the other way as a business stuffs money in his pocket may be part of the vision.

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