Is Coke Illegally Claiming “Diet” Soda is a Treatment for Obesity?

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News Release

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, July 1, 2015                          
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

Is Coke Illegally Claiming “Diet” Soda is a Treatment for Obesity?

U.S. Right to Know, a consumer advocacy group, sent a letter today to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), asking it to stop the Coca-Cola Company from making apparently illegal claims that its artificially sweetened sodas prevent, mitigate or treat obesity.

The Coca-Cola Company has made apparently illegal “disease claims” on at least eight occasions.  Federal law and rules allow food companies to make science-based “health claims” that link a product to reduced risk of a disease, but prohibit them from making “disease claims,” or claims to “diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent a specific disease…” In this case, there is growing scientific evidence tying artificial sweeteners to weight gain, not weight loss.

“Coke is gulling consumers into believing that artificially sweetened soda is a treatment for obesity,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “Coke is wrong on the facts and the FDA should stop them if they are on the wrong side of the law.”  Following are three examples of how the Coca-Cola Company claims its artificially sweetened sodas prevent, mitigate or treat obesity:

  • In the Coca-Cola Company’s “Position on Obesity,” the company notes that it “announced four global commitments to bring people together to help find workable solutions to address obesity,” and that its lead “commitment” was to “Offer low- or no-calorie beverage options in every market.”

Text of today’s letter to FDA is available at: http://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/cokeobesity.pdf.

The Coca-Cola Company’s “disease claims” for its artificially sweetened sodas are apparently illegal, but they are also probably untrue.  Numerous scientific studies and literature reviews suggest that artificial sweeteners likely do not assist in weight loss and may cause weight gain.

Examples of scientific studies suggesting links between artificial sweeteners and weight gain include:

  • A 2013 Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism review article finds “accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” and that “frequent consumption of high-intensity sweeteners may have the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.”
  • A 2014 study published in Nature found that “consumption of commonly used NAS [non-caloric artificial sweetener] formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota….our results link NAS consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities….Our findings suggest that NAS may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight.”

“Coke’s claims that its artificially sweetened sodas treat obesity are probably false,” Ruskin said.

The Coca-Cola Company manufactures many artificially sweetened sodas, including Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, Coca-Cola Cherry Zero, Coca-Cola Vanilla Zero, Diet Barq’s Beer, Fanta Orange Zero, Mello Yello Zero, Sprite Zero, Fresca, Pibb Zero, Seagram’s Diet Ginger Ale and Tab.

On April 9, U.S. Right to Know asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. from using the term “diet” in advertising, branding and labeling of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, because it appears to be deceptive, false and misleading.

Texts of the April 9 U.S. Right to Know requests to FTC and FDA are available at:
FTC: http://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/FTC-artificial-sweetener-letter.pdf
FDA: http://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/FDA-artificial-sweetener-petition.pdf

U.S. Right to Know is a new nonprofit food organization that investigates and reports on what food companies don’t want us to know. For more information, please see our website at usrtk.org.

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