Is It Accurate to Call a Soda “Diet,” Consumer Group Asks Soda CEOs

Print Email Share Tweet

News Release

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, May 20, 2015
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

Is It Accurate to Call a Soda “Diet,” Consumer Group Asks Soda CEOs

Consumer group U.S. Right to Know sent letters today to the chief executive officers of Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, asking whether it is truthful to advertise, label or market artificially sweetened beverages as “diet” products.

An accumulating body of scientific studies suggests that artificial sweeteners do not assist in weight loss, and may well cause weight gain.

Following is the letter U.S. Right to Know sent today to Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola Co.

Dear Mr. Kent:

We are writing to inquire about whether you believe it is truthful, fair and accurate to market artificially sweetened beverages as weight loss products.

As you know, many companies, including your own, market artificially sweetened beverages using the term “diet.” For example, Diet Coke is sweetened with aspartame; Diet Pepsi is sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium, but will soon be sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium; and Dr. Pepper Diet Cola is sweetened with aspartame.

On April 9, U.S. Right to Know asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration to investigate whether Coca Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and other companies were violating federal laws and rules against deceptive, false and misleading advertising, branding and labeling of products using the term “diet” that contain artificial sweeteners.

Many scientific studies and literature reviews suggest that artificial sweeteners do not assist in weight loss and may cause weight gain.

Four reviews of the scientific literature on artificial sweeteners suggest that they do not contribute to weight loss, and instead link them to weight gain.

  • A 2010 Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine review of the literature on artificial sweeteners concludes that, “research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain.”[1]
  • A 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition review article finds that the “addition of NNS [nonnutritive sweeteners] to diets poses no benefit for weight loss or reduced weight gain without energy restriction. There are long-standing and recent concerns that inclusion of NNS in the diet promotes energy intake and contributes to obesity.”[2]
  • A 2010 International Journal of Pediatric Obesity review article states that “Data from large, epidemiologic studies support the existence of an association between artificially-sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain in children.”[3]
  • 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.”[4]

Epidemiological evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners are implicated in weight gain. For example:

  • The San Antonio Heart Study “observed a classic, positive dose-response relationship between AS [artificially sweetened] beverage consumption and long-term weight gain.” Furthermore, it found that consuming more than 21 artificially sweetened beverages per week – compared to those who consumed none, “was associated with almost-doubled risk” of overweight or obesity.”[5]
  • A study of beverage consumption among children and adolescents aged 6-19 found that “BMI is positively associated with consumption of diet carbonated beverages.”[6]
  • A two-year study of 164 children found that “Increases in diet soda consumption were significantly greater for overweight and subjects who gained weight as compared to normal weight subjects. Baseline BMI Z-score and year 2 diet soda consumption predicted 83.1% of the variance in year 2 BMI Z-score.” It also found that “Diet soda consumption was the only type of beverage associated with year 2 BMI Z-score, and consumption was greater in overweight subjects and subjects who gained weight as compared to normal weight subjects at two years.”[7]
  • The U.S. Growing Up Today study of more than 10,000 children aged 9-14 found that, for boys, intakes of diet soda “were significantly associated with weight gains.”[8]

Other types of studies similarly suggest that artificial sweeteners do not contribute to weight loss. For example, interventional studies do not support the notion that artificial sweeteners produce weight loss. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine review of the scientific literature, “consensus from interventional studies suggests that artificial sweeteners do not help reduce weight when used alone.”[9]

Some studies also suggest that artificial sweeteners increase appetite, which may promote weight gain. For example, the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine review found that “Preload experiments generally have found that sweet taste, whether delivered by sugar or artificial sweeteners, enhanced human appetite.”[10]

Studies based on rodents suggest that consumption of artificial sweeteners can lead to consuming extra food. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine review, “Inconsistent coupling between sweet taste and caloric content can lead to compensatory overeating and positive energy balance.” In addition, according to the same article, “artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence.”[11]

A 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that “Overweight and obese adults in the United States drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults, consume significantly more calories from solid food—at both meals and snacks—than overweight and obese adults who drink SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages], and consume a comparable amount of total calories as overweight and obese adults who drink SSBs.”[12]

A 2015 study of older adults in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found “In a striking dose-response relationship,” that “increasing DSI [diet soda intake] was associated with escalating abdominal obesity…”[13]

An important 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.”[14]

We want to ask you the following questions:

(1) Do you believe it is fair, accurate and truthful to label and advertise artificially sweetened beverages as weight loss products? If so, why? If not, why not?

(2) Do you believe that the scientific evidence on artificial sweeteners is sufficient to conclude that artificial sweeteners do not bring weight loss and may well cause weight gain? If not, why not?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Gary Ruskin
Executive Director

———————————

U.S. Right to Know sent the letters to Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent, PepsiCo Inc. CEO Indra Nooyi, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group CEO Larry Young.

On April 9, U.S. Right to Know requested 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 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 about our food. For more information, please see our website at usrtk.org.

-30-

[1] Yang Q, “Gain Weight by ‘Going Diet?’ Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. PMID: 20589192.

[2] Mattes RD, Popkin BM, “Nonnutritive Sweetener Consumption in Humans: Effects on Appetite and Food Intake and Their Putative Mechanisms.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 3, 2008. 2009 Jan;89(1):1-14. PMID: 19056571.

[3] Brown RJ, de Banate MA, Rother KI, “Artificial Sweeteners: a Systematic Review of Metabolic Effects in Youth.” International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 2010 Aug;5(4):305-12. PMID: 20078374.

[4] Swithers SE, “Artificial Sweeteners Produce the Counterintuitive Effect of Inducing Metabolic Derangements.” Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, July 10, 2013. 2013 Sep;24(9):431-41. PMID: 23850261.

[5] Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. “Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-Term Weight Gain.” Obesity, 2008 Aug;16(8):1894-900. PMID: 18535548.

[6] Forshee RA, Storey ML, “Total Beverage Consumption and Beverage Choices Among Children and Adolescents.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2003 Jul;54(4):297-307. PMID: 12850891.

[7] Blum JW, Jacobsen DJ, Donnelly JE, “Beverage Consumption Patterns in Elementary School Aged Children Across a Two-Year Period.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2005 Apr;24(2):93-8. PMID: 15798075.

[8] Berkey CS, Rockett HR, Field AE, Gillman MW, Colditz GA. “Sugar-Added Beverages and Adolescent Weight Change.”Obes Res. 2004 May;12(5):778-88. PMID: 15166298.

[9] Yang Q, “Gain Weight by ‘Going Diet?’ Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. PMID: 20589192.

[10] Yang Q, “Gain Weight by ‘Going Diet?’ Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. PMID: 20589192.

[11] Yang Q, “Gain Weight by ‘Going Diet?’ Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. PMID: 20589192.

[12] Bleich SN, Wolfson JA, Vine S, Wang YC, “Diet-Beverage Consumption and Caloric Intake Among US Adults, Overall and by Body Weight.” American Journal of Public Health, January 16, 2014. 2014 Mar;104(3):e72-8. PMID: 24432876.

[13] Fowler S, Williams K, Hazuda H, “Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long-Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, March 17, 2015.

[14] Suez J. et al., “Artificial Sweeteners Induce Glucose Intolerance by Altering the Gut Microbiota.” Nature, September 17, 2014. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. PMID: 25231862