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Diet Soda Makers Sued Over Deceptive, False and Misleading Advertising

Low- or no-calorie artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are typically used to sweeten so-called “diet” foods and beverages in lieu of calorie-rich sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The idea is that consuming fewer calories will result in weight loss. However, research has firmly refuted such claims, showing that artificial sweeteners actually produce the complete opposite effect.

By lowering appetite suppressant chemicals and encouraging sugar cravings, artificial sweeteners actually raise your odds of weight gain. Studies have also shown artificial sweeteners promote insulin resistance and related health problems just like regular sugar does, so claims that “diet” soda and snacks are a safe and healthy option for diabetics are false as well.

Use of the Word ‘Diet’ Is Deceptive, False and Misleading

False advertising is prohibited by federal law, and the term “diet” is only permitted on brands or labels when it is not false or misleading. Two years ago — in light of the overwhelming amount of research demonstrating that artificially sweeteners actually raise your risk of obesity rather than combat it — the consumer group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and other companies for false advertising.1,2

In its citizen petition to the FDA,3 USRTK asked the agency to issue warning letters to Coca-Cola and Pepsi for misbranding their beverages, as use of the term “diet” is false and misleading. July 1, 2015, USRTK sent another letter4 to the FDA, urging the agency to stop Coca-Cola Co. from making “illegal claims that its artificially sweetened sodas prevent, mitigate or treat obesity.”

In one instance, Coca-Cola Co. had announced5 that its No. 1 “global commitment to fighting obesity” is to “offer low- or no-calorie beverage options in every market.” If artificially sweetened beverages promote obesity rather than fight it, then Coca-Cola’s commitment is merely worsening the problem. It’s also unsupported by a large body of science.

As noted by Gary Ruskin, codirector of USRTK, at the time,6 “Coke is gulling consumers into believing that artificially sweetened soda is a treatment for obesity. Coke is wrong on the facts and the FDA should stop them if they are on the wrong side of the law.”

One of the Biggest Consumer Scams in Last 50 Years

For those of you who recall these events and wondered what ever came of it, I can now offer you an important and interesting update. October 16, three separate class-action lawsuits were filed against Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc.,7,8,9,10,11 all of whom make and sell “diet” beverages sweetened with aspartame.

As reported by CBS News,12 “The suits allege that the companies' use of the word ‘diet’ in the beverages' ‘false misleading and unlawful’ marketing could make a ‘reasonable consumer’ think the drinks are a diet aid.” According to attorney Abraham Melamed:

“What's been going on is clearly deceptive advertising. In our opinion, it's one of the biggest consumer scams in the last 50 years, and it has to stop. There's a strong sense of urgency because there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of consumers out there that are being deceived on a daily basis."

According to the complaints, the beverage makers should be aware of the published evidence against aspartame, which proves the artificial sweetener actually worsens obesity and related health problems. With this knowledge, it stands to reason that continuing to promote no- or low-calorie beverages as “diet” products is a willfully deceptive act aimed to deceive people who want to manage their weight.

The class-action lawsuits also charge the beverage makers with violating FDA and New York state food labeling rules, both of which explicitly prohibit labeling that is “false or misleading in any particular.” As one would expect, the companies that have issued public responses to the allegations have all rejected the lawsuits as “meritless” and vow to “vigorously defend” themselves.

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