Is “Diet” Soda a Fraud? We Asked FTC to Investigate

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News Release
For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 9, 2015
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

“Diet” Soda Fraud? Consumer Group Asks FTC, FDA to Investigate Coke, Pepsi for False Advertising

Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi Use the Term “Diet,” But Studies Link Artificial Sweeteners to Weight Gain

Consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know today 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.

Numerous scientific studies and literature reviews suggest that artificial sweeteners do not assist in weight loss and may cause weight gain. Federal law prohibits false advertising, branding and labeling of food products, and FDA regulations permit the use of the term “diet” for soft drink brands or labels only when it is not false or misleading.

“Lots of scientific evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain, not weight loss,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know. “So how can Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi be advertised as ‘diet’ products?”

Both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Diet Coke is sweetened with aspartame, and Diet Pepsi with aspartame and acesulfame potassium.

U.S. Right to Know also asked the FTC and FDA to investigate all other companies that manufacture products containing artificial sweeteners that are advertised, branded or labeled as “diet” or as weight loss aids, to determine whether they are falsely advertised, branded or labeled.

“Obviously, products labeled ‘diet’ shouldn’t cause weight gain,” Ruskin said.

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.”

Texts of the U.S. Right to Know requests to FTC and FDA are available at:

UPDATE Sept. 2015: FTC declines to probe whether ads for ‘diet’ soda are deceptive, McClatchy story.

Text of the FTC and FDA’s responses to our requests are available at:

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


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