Monday, December 05, 2005

Journal editor reminds Zemel to disclose dairy weight loss patents

The International Journal of Obesity published a sharply-worded letter from the editor in November, reminding Dr. Michael Zemel that the journal requires its authors to report any conflicts of interest.
The Editor confirmed Dr Zemel's patents and patent applications and requested of him that in any future submissions to IJO, their presence be noted.
Dr. Zemel is the author of a diet book, The Calcium Key, and holder of a patent on dairy weight loss claims, along with several additional related patent applications. In a letter to the Journal, DS Kalman had written to observe that recent research in the same journal had not corroborated some of the dairy weight loss claims, and to question the non-disclosure of Zemel's patents.
Finally, it is disheartening that Dr Zemel did not reveal in this paper that he has one United States Patent granted for calcium as a weight loss agent (see 'Materials and methods for the treatment of obesity') and eight more pending United States Patent Applications. All of these patents and patent pending 'inventions' are for calcium as a weight loss/fat loss aid either through food or dietary supplements in addition to a plan for how to promote calcium consumption for weight loss. While obtaining patents or applying for patents is not wrong, the lack of disclosure of the possible conflict of interest should be reported to the readers. Given the concerns expressed above, it may be premature to accept the theory of calcium as a weight modifier.
Zemel's patent is quite bold. It claims intellectual property rights on a method for achieving weight loss by -- hold your breath for the novel technology -- administering milk.
The subject invention provides methods of inducing the loss of adipose tissue by providing a diet high in calcium. In one aspect of the invention, the calcium is provided in the form of dairy products. In yet another aspect of the invention, calcium is provided in the form of a dietary supplement, such as calcium carbonate, of vitamin supplements.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, commissioned by the federal government to assess the current state of scientific evidence on nutrition issues for purposes of dietary guidance policy, considered and declined to endorse the dairy weight loss message. Yet, the federal government's checkoff advertising campaigns rely on these weight loss claims as a central marketing theme.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like there's a "rest of the story" here, some sort of personal feud going on. Zemel is such a rock star and his activities are so well known that the editors can't be seriously suggesting that he made an attempt to conceal anything from either them or the prospective readers of his paper. Why the public spaz attack rather than a private note to Zemel?

I'm sure neither Zemel nor most of the journal submitters spend much time reading the detailed requirements for submitting papers to every journal they submit to. The last time I read those kind of requirements, they specified "elite typeface." Whoa--where's my IBM Selectric!

By the way, Zemel is listed as an "inventor" on the patents, as required by U.S. patent law, but I believe his university owns the patents. He does profit from them, however.

usfoodpolicy said...

Sound science depends on honest disclosure of patents and other conflicts of interest. Strict disclosure rules are already a compromise position, falling somewhere between (on the one hand) complete corruption of the scientific endeavor and (on the other hand) rules that would forbid publication by those with serious conflicts of interest. The current philosophy is to disclose conflicts and let the reader decide.

In contrast with a one-time grant, the intellectual property rights provided by a patent are an income-generating asset, whose future income stream depends on having the scientific community accept the patent's claims. A patent clearly falls under the journal's disclosure requirements. It is essential information for a reader who seeks to evaluate an article critically. The actual disclosure of support in Zemel's article in the International Journal of Obesity substantially understates his conflict of interest. Zemel's response to the letter, arguing that his patent is on the public record and hence did not require disclosure, provides neither a correct description of the journal's disclosure policies nor a sufficient response to the information needs of the readers, many of whom will not be dairy research experts or readers of U.S. Food Policy (two groups who already know of Zemel's patents). Far from reflecting some strange spaz attack by the editor, this particular patent over dairy weight loss claims is highly unusual, making disclosure important.

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