Lawsuit in U.S. says Coca-Cola downplays risks of sugary drinks

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By Jonathan Stempel

<span class="articleLocation”>Coca-Cola Co and the American Beverage
Association trade group were sued on Wednesday for allegedly
misleading consumers about the health risks from consuming
sugary beverages.

The nonprofit Praxis Project accused the defendants of
downplaying the risks to boost sales, despite scientific
evidence linking sugary beverages to obesity, diabetes and
cardiovascular disease.

Praxis accused both defendants of using euphemisms such as “balance” and “calories in, calories out” to mislead consumers,
and Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage company, of trying
to mislead the public into thinking a lack of exercise was the
real cause of obesity.

“The notion that Coke’s products can be part of a healthy
diet is imprinted on the minds of millions if not billions of
people, and requires corrective action,” Maia Kats, litigation
director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which
helped file the lawsuit, said in an interview.

Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers called the lawsuit “legally
and factually meritless. 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 American Beverage Association called the lawsuit’s
accusations “unfounded.” It also said that, together with its
members, it is working with health groups to reduce consumers’
caloric and sugar intake from beverages.

Wednesday’s lawsuit seeks to stop misleading marketing and
require more consumer warnings, among other remedies. It was
filed with the federal court in Oakland, California.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Inc have pledged to bolster
efforts to reduce added sugar in beverages.

In October, Coca-Cola Chief Operating Officer James Quincey,
slated to succeed Muhtar Kent as chief executive in May, said
the Atlanta-based company has more than 200 “reformulation
initiatives” toward that end.

But according to the complaint, a 16-ounce bottle of Coke
has 12 teaspoons of added sugar, a 15.2-ounce bottle of Minute
Maid Cranberry Grape Juice drink has 13 teaspoons, and a
20-ounce bottle of Vitaminwater has eight teaspoons.

By comparison, the American Heart Association recommends no
more than nine teaspoons a day for men, and six for women.

A teaspoon of sugar has about 16 calories.

Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc is
Coca-Cola’s largest shareholder, has said he drinks at least
five Cokes a day.

The CSPI sued PepsiCo in October over health claims for its
Naked juices, but did not target that company in
Wednesday’s lawsuit.

Kats said PepsiCo “is not promoting itself as a voice of
science, or misrepresenting the harms of sugary beverages the
way Coca-Cola is.”

The case is Praxis Project v Coca-Cola Co et al, U.S.
District Court, Northern District of California, No. 17-00016. (Additional reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru)

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