Skeptic News: Herbalife cozies up with UCLA

Janss_Steps,_Royce_Hall_in_background,_UCLAFrom: LA times

UCLA’s Medical School has an unusually close relationship with Herbalife, which constantly promotes its connection to doctors there. Where do sensible ideas end and the shilling for Herbalife begin?

Herbalife International says it’s all about helping people “pursue healthy, active lives.” UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine likes to think of itself as being in the forefront of medical research and modern healthcare. But the curious relationship between these two supposed champions of healthful living should turn your stomach.

Herbalife is the Los Angeles nutritional supplement firm that has become the centerpiece of a ferocious Wall Street tug of war. The major player is hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who contends that Herbalife is a scam to sell overpriced products by fooling people into becoming Herbalife “distributors” by implying the business will make them rich. He says he’s shorted $1 billion in Herbalife shares as a bet that the company is destined to collapse. On the other side are investors who either believe Herbalife will stay a highflier, or who just want to squeeze Ackman dry. (He’s not a popular chap.) One of Ackman’s accusations against the company is that it exaggerates the scientific research behind its powders and pills. That’s where UCLA comes in, because Herbalife has exploited its “strong affiliation” with the medical school to give its products scientific credibility.

Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson seldom lets an investor event pass without mentioning UCLA, specifically the Mark Hughes Cellular and Molecular Nutrition Lab at the medical school’s Center for Human Nutrition. Herbalife says it has contributed $1.5 million in cash, equipment and software to the lab since 2002. That’s not much of an investment for a company that collected $2 billion in profits over the same period. But Johnson sometimes refers to the lab as if it’s an Herbalife facility.

The rest of this LA Times article is well worth a read and strongly questions whether this association with Herbalife is tarnishing the reputation of UCLA. The University of California has a “conflict-of-commitment” policy governing the outside activities of its faculty members, but it may be too tolerant. The policy frowns on outside salaried work without written permission, but it provides a yawning loophole for arrangements like consultantships. Faculty are required to maintain “appropriate standards of scholarly inquiry” and to practice “intellectual honesty.” The article questions the relationship between academics David Heber and Louis Ignarro and Herbalife lending their consulting talents to the company and their name to Herbalife products.

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One Response to Skeptic News: Herbalife cozies up with UCLA

  1. Extremely disturbing. I’m surprised that the UCLA policy does not limit consultancy income to some fraction of University-based salary.

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