FTC Declines to Act Against Deceptive “Diet” Soda Ads

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[Update: See our fact sheet with the most recent science on aspartame’s links to weight gain]

News Release
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, October 14, 2015
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

Citing competing priorities and resource allocation, the Federal Trade Commission has declined a request from consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know 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.

“It’s regrettable that the FTC won’t act to halt the deceptions of the ‘diet’ soda industry,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know “Ample scientific evidence links artificial sweeteners to weight gain, not weight loss.”

“I do believe that ‘diet’ soda will go down in U.S. history as one of the greatest consumer frauds ever.”

“I do believe that ‘diet’ soda will go down in U.S. history as one of the greatest consumer frauds ever,” Ruskin said.

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

  • 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.”
  • 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 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…”
  • 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:
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

Text of the FTC and FDA’s responses to our requests are available at:
FTC: http://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FTC-response-diet-soda.pdf
FDA: http://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FDA-response-diet-soda.pdf

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

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