- Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
Coca-Cola is in hot water over the health risks of sugary drinks.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer-advocacy group, claims that Coca-Cola and industry group the American Beverage Association have misled customers regarding the health risks of consuming sugary drinks such as soda.
“Each year, Coca-Cola reaps huge profits from the sale of its sugar-sweetened beverages,” the suit reads. “Each year, Coca-Cola spends billions of dollars on misleading and deceptive promotions and advertising that have enormous appeal to consumers, including children, which advertising effects persist over years.”
The suit specifically takes issue with Coca-Cola and the ABA’s emphasis on “calories in, calories out” and exercise as the best ways to manage health, which CSPI argues ignores scientific evidence linking sugar-sweetened drinks to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The suit additionally claims Coca-Cola purposefully misled Americans on the health risks of drinking soda by funding research that downplays the dangers of sugary beverages, a practice the company ended after public criticism.
The ABA has long argued the obesity is a “complex condition,” pointing to the fact that obesity and diabetes rates have increased in recent years, despite the fact that soda consumption is dropping. Coca-Cola has similarly claimed that soda can be part of a balanced diet, promoting exercise and smaller bottles as solutions to potential health issues.
“This lawsuit is legally and factually meritless,” Coca-Cola said in a statement. “We take our consumers and their health very seriously and have been on a journey to become a more credible and helpful partner in helping consumers manage their sugar consumption.”
The company said that it has worked to improve products’ nutrition by adopting front-of-pack calorie labeling, expanding low- and no-calorie products, reformulating products to reduce added sugars, and being more transparent in regards to disclosing funding. Coca-Cola also said it does not advertise to children under 12.
“America’s beverage companies know we have an important role to play in addressing our nation’s health challenges. That’s why we’re engaging with health groups and community organizations to drive a reduction in the sugar and calories Americans get from beverages,” the ABA said in a statement. “Unfounded accusations like these won’t do anything to address health concerns, but the actions we’re taking, particularly in areas where obesity rates are among the highest, can make a difference.”
CSPI is demanding that Coca-Cola and the ABA disclose files on potential health implications of consuming sugar-sweetened drinks, fund a public health education campaign, and end advertising aimed at children as well as marketing that implies drinking sugary beverage is not linked to health problems.
This isn’t the first time that CSPI has filed a lawsuit against a beverage giant known for its sugary sodas.
In October, the consumer-advocacy group filed a class-action lawsuit claiming PepsiCo misled consumers by marketing its Naked Juice beverages as healthier than they really are – a claim that PepsiCo denies.
In 2009, CSPI went after Coca-Cola over health claims made on bottles of Vitaminwater. Coca-Cola agreed to ditch the contested health claims and note that the drink was made “with sweeteners” on labels.