Centaurus’ Arnold funds obesity research

Wed Sep 12, 2012

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The retired hedge fund billionaire backs a novel effort to study nutrition science.


John and Laura Arnold

In May, John Arnold simply said he would " pursue other interests" in a letter announcing the closing of his highly successful energy hedge fund firm Centaurus Advisors. Those interests are now coming into focus through the 38-year-old's philanthropic foundation and a donation announced today to fund novel obesity research.

The $900 million Laura and John Arnold Foundation is the lead backer for The Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI), which is "dedicated to dramatically reducing the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related diseases by significantly improving nutrition science," according to a press release. Founded by surgeon and former McKinsey & Co. consultant Peter Attia and science journalist Gary Taubes, NuSI has a deceptively simple goal: to determine what people should eat to be healthy.

The Arnold Foundation has given the group $5 million in seed funds, according to LJAF director of communications Meredith Johnson. The Arnolds also plan on being actively involved in funding NuSI's research projects, although funds are also being raised from other private citizens and organizations.

"Laura and John Arnold are passionate about reducing the social and economic burden of obesity," said LJAF's Johnson in a statement. "Yet, without defensible scientific evidence, it is useless to support any public education campaign around what to eat. We are committed to supporting innovative efforts, like NuSI, that promote the rigorous science necessary to drive lasting and positive social impact."

Co-founder Taubes is the author of Why We Get Fat (2011), Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007) and Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion (1993). Much of his work has dealt with exposing and analyzing flawed science.

"Controversies over what constitutes a healthy diet and what causes obesity have been on-going in nutrition research for over a century. There's little excuse for this, other than that the science hasn't been good enough to resolve these controversies definitively. Now with the help of the Arnold Foundation, we have the opportunity to do that, once and for all," Taubes said in an email to AR.

John Arnold approached Taubes in November shortly after hearing him discuss the lack of convincing nutrition science on an economics podcast, EconTalk with Russ Roberts.

The NuSI gift represents a new focus area for the Arnold foundation, dubbed "research integrity." Founded in 2008, the organization's other efforts have centered on criminal justice, education and public accountability. Recent initiatives include policy papers on public pension reform and a " giving library" to better connect donors and nonprofits.

"We are deeply indebted to our community and our country for the many opportunities granted to us, and for a social and economic environment in which we could make the most of those opportunities," the Arnolds wrote when signing the Giving Pledge in 2010, a commitment to give a majority of their wealth away ($3 billion as of March, according to Forbes). "We consider it our responsibility to ensure the same opportunities for others. We view our wealth in this light - not as an end in itself, but as an instrument to effect positive and transformative change."

See AR's February 2011 cover story, The reckoning of Centaurus billionaire John Arnold

ISSN: 2151-1845 / CDC10004H