Consumer Group Asks FTC, FDA to Investigate Coke, Pepsi for False Advertising

The Oakland, California based consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know has called on 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.

The group said that numerous scientific studies and literature reviews suggest that artificial sweeteners do not assist in weight loss and may cause weight gain.

diet coke

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.

diet pepsi

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.

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.”


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