Coke told customers for years it was their own fault they were obese and had health problems. Now the company is being sued for falsely representing that its sugary beverages had nothing to do with people getting chronic illnesses.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed the suit Wednesday against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, its trade group.
“For years, Defendants have engaged in a pattern of deception to mislead and confuse the public (and governmental entities that bear responsibility for the public health) about the scientific consensus that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” the suit reads. “Defendants have undertaken these actions even though they know and have known that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to serious medical conditions.”
A 16-ounce regular Coke has 12 teaspoons of sugar — double the recommended daily intake for children and women, and more than the nine teaspoons recommended for men.
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The suit alleges that Coca-Cola was actively engaged in “campaigns of disinformation and misrepresentation” so consumers weren’t turned off from their products over health concerns. They claim the company “misleadingly sought to divert focus from sugar-sweetened beverage consumption to a purported lack of exercise as the as the explanation for the rise in obesity-related chronic conditions, despite the fact that they knew this explanation was not scientifically sound.”
Coca-Cola told Quartz that the company is focusing on how to make its products healthier for consumers and that the suit is baseless.
“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,” a spokesperson said. “To that end, we have led the industry adopting clear, front-of-pack calorie labeling for all our beverages. We are innovating to expand low- and no-calorie products; offering and promoting more drinks in smaller sizes; reformulating products to reduce added sugars; transparently disclosing our funding of health and well-being scientific research and partnerships; and do not advertise to children under 12.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants Coca-Cola to stop advertising their products in a manner that suggests they are healthy; fund a public education campaign to teach consumers about the association between sugary drinks and obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; stop advertising to children under 12; and publicly disclose any information it had gathered on how sugar-sweetened beverages could adversely impact health.