David A. Kessler

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David Aaron Kessler
Kessler in April 2009
Kessler in April 2009
Born (1951-05-13) May 13, 1951 (age 68)
New York, New York
OccupationPediatrician, lawyer, author, administrator
Alma materAmherst College, Harvard University, University of Chicago
Notable worksYour Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry

David Aaron Kessler (born May 13, 1951) is an American pediatrician, lawyer, author, and administrator (both academic and governmental). He was the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from November 8, 1990 to February 28, 1997.


After graduating from Amherst College in 1973, Kessler studied medicine at Harvard University, graduating with an M.D. degree in 1979. While at Harvard Dr. Kessler obtained a law degree J.D. in 1977 from the University of Chicago.[1] While serving his residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he worked as a consultant to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah, particularly on issues relating to the safety of food additives, and on the regulation of cigarettes and tobacco. From 1984-1990, Kessler simultaneously ran a 431-bed teaching hospital in New York City and taught at the Columbia Law School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

As FDA commissioner[edit]

Although his appointment as FDA commissioner in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush won bipartisan approval, many of Kessler's actions were controversial, and he soon became more popular with Democrats than Republicans. He moved quickly to make the agency more efficient, cutting the time needed to approve or reject new drugs, including AIDS drugs, and more vigilant in protecting consumers against unsafe products and inflated label claims. It was also under his watch that FDA enacted regulations requiring standardized Nutrition Facts labels on food. In one memorable action, he had 24,000 gallons of Citrus Hill orange juice seized because although made from concentrate, it was labeled "fresh."[2] Kessler was reappointed to the post of FDA Commissioner during the administration of Bill Clinton.[3]

Kessler is also known for his role in the FDA's attempt to regulate cigarettes,[4] which resulted in the FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. case. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the FDA did not have the power to enact and enforce the regulations in question.[5] He was awarded the Public Health Hero award on April 2, 2008 by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health for his work in tobacco regulation. Kessler published a book entitled A Question of Intent, which gave his view of his time at the FDA, focussing on his attempts to change tobacco legislation and the interpretation of that legislation, and his battle with the then-illegal but still used Y1 strain of tobacco.[4]

Kessler also oversaw the FDA-directed moratorium on silicone breast implant devices in 1992. This moratorium led to a deluge of lawsuits in the following months, many of which were filed prior to the federal judiciary's adoption of the Daubert standard for expert testimony in 1993. These lawsuits ultimately led to perhaps the largest settlement in the history of medical devices, Dow Corning's declaration of bankruptcy, and ongoing payments to individuals for conditions that have nothing to do with silicone. Scientific panels funded by three different government agencies conducted comprehensive assessments and later arrived independently at the same conclusion: that there was no connection between silicone gel implants and systemic disease.[6][7][8] The FDA moratorium was lifted in 2006.

After the FDA[edit]

Kessler delivers a lecture at George Washington University in October 2013.

Kessler left the FDA to join the Yale School of Medicine as Dean from 1997–2003. He was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2001.[9] In 2003 he was recruited to a post as Dean and Vice-Chancellor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School.[1][10] After his arrival at UCSF, Kessler uncovered multiple spreadsheets for the same closed fiscal year (a year prior to his recruitment), all showing different revenue and expense numbers, but indicating that the dean's office was in deficit and would continue to be so, in direct contravention of what had been reported to him during his recruitment, evidence of, at best, inadequate financial controls. J. Michael Bishop, Chancellor of UCSF, claimed UC audits found no evidence of financial irregularities and, in June 2007, Bishop demanded Kessler's resignation. On December 13, 2007, Kessler was formally dismissed. Then, Bishop acknowledged that the financial data presented to Kessler during his recruitment might have been misleading. Kessler alleged he was fired for whistleblowing.[11][12][13][14] Subsequent to Kessler's firing, after UCSF was pressured to release one of the audits, by KPMG,[15] it was revealed that Kessler had been correct.[16]

His 2009 book The End of Overeating (a New York Times best seller) highlights for the consumer the amount of fat, salt and sugar in their food intake. He asserts that this trio of elements in restaurant and processed foods conditions us to eat more in a manner that changes our brain circuitry and that children may develop a pattern of overeating and obesity that they might retain for life.[17] He stresses that this outcome of lifelong obesity is not genetic but environmental and avoidable.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Kessler, David A., Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering (2016) ISBN 9780062388513
  • Kessler, David A., Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt (2012) ISBN 9781596438316 (A version of The End of Overeating aimed at teens)
  • Kessler, David A., The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (2009) ISBN 1-60529-785-2
  • Kessler, David A., A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry (2001) ISBN 1-891620-80-0
  • Kessler, David A.; Rose, Janet L.; Temple, Robert J.; Schapiro, Renie; Griffin, Joseph P. (1994). "Therapeutic-Class Wars -- Drug Promotion in a Competitive Marketplace". New England Journal of Medicine. 331 (20): 1350–1353. doi:10.1056/NEJM199411173312007. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 7935706.
  • Eisdorfer, Carl, David A. Kessler, and Abby N. Spector, eds. Caring for the Elderly: Reshaping Health Policy (1989) ISBN 978-0-8018-3810-1


  1. ^ a b "David A. Kessler, MD". BIO (Annual International Convention) 2004 Newsroom. 2004-06-14. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  2. ^ Leary, Warren E. (1991-04-25). "Citing Labels, U.S. Seizes Orange Juice". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Hilts, Philip J. (1993-02-27). "Clinton Retains Bush Appointee As F.D.A. Chief". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b Kessler, David A. (2001). A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry. Public Affairs. ISBN 1-58648-121-5.
  5. ^ "FDA V. BROWN & WILLIAMSON TOBACCO CORP". Cornell University Law School.
  6. ^ Independent Review Group, Silicone Breast Implants: The Report of the Independent Review Group 8 (July 1998).
  7. ^ Bondurant S., Ernster V., Herdman R, eds.; Institute of Medicine Committee on the Safety of Silicone Breast Implants. Safety of Silicone Breast Implants. Washington, DC; National Academic Press; 1999.
  8. ^ Diamond B, Hulka B, Kerkvliet N, Tugwell P, Silicone Breast Implants in Relation to Connective Tissue Diseases and Immunologic Dysfunction: A Report by a National Science Panel to the Honorable Sam C. Pointer Jr., Coordinating Judge for the Federal Breast Implant Multi-District Litigation. November 30, 1998.
  9. ^ "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  10. ^ Schevitz, Tanya (2007-12-15). "Recruited from Yale with money, gifts and promises". www.sfgate.com. San Francisco Chronicle. p. A12. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  11. ^ Russell, Sabin (2007-12-15). "UCSF medical school fires dean in dispute over finances". www.sfgate.com. San Francisco Chronicle.
  12. ^ "UCSF Issue Statement About Leadership Changes at UCSF School of Medicine". UCSF. 2007-12-14. Archived from the original on 2008-01-19.
  13. ^ Miller, Greg (2007-12-21). "UNIVERSITIES: Questions Swirl Around Kessler's Abrupt Dismissal From UCSF". Science. 318 (5858): 1855a. doi:10.1126/science.318.5858.1855a. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 18096782.
  14. ^ "UCSF dean is fired, cites whistle-blowing". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Schevitz, Tanya; Russell, Sabin (January 16, 2008). "UCSF Refuses to Release Outside Review of Finances". San Francisco Chronicle.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Audit Firm Sides With Ex-Dean of University of California-San Francisco Medical School". The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 5, 2008.
  17. ^ "Crave Man: David Kessler Knew That Some Foods Are Hard to Resist; Now He Knows Why". The Washington Post.

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