Thomas Phippen, DCNF
A progressive activist group is suing Coca-Cola for its “unlawful” false advertising that downplays the risks of sugar while encouraging exercise.
Filed by The Praxis Project in northern California federal court Wednesday, the lawsuit claims that Coke “misleadingly sought to divert focus from sugar-sweetened beverage consumption to a purported lack of exercise as the explanation for the rise in obesity-related chronic conditions, despite the fact that they knew this explanation was not scientifically sound.”
Praxis claims Coke’s advertising and public relations messages — which say people should balance sugar intake with exercise — amount to lies that are at best unscientific and at worse encourage habits that lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Coke is “like the tobacco industry” in how it advertises directly to kids under 12 years of age, says Praxis, because it “needs to replenish the ranks of its customers, and it tries to recruit them young,” and in how the company builds relationships with scientists and researchers to push favorable studies about the impacts of sugar.
Here are some of advertising campaigns Praxis cites in its filing as exemplary of the Coke’s false advertising:
75 seconds of laughing burns off the calories of a can of Coke?
One Coke ad campaign in particular attracted a lot of criticism. The “Be OK” ad, which ran during the 2013 Super Bowl, purported to show how easy it is to work off the calories in a can of Coke.
The ad claims that “laughing for for 75 seconds, or doing a victory jig in the bowling alley, or 15 minutes of happy dancing” can burn off the 139 calories in a coke.
Praxis finds the ad misleading, partly because the activities depicted are “always undertaken by trim and fit models, instead of overweight, obese or diabetic consumers.” Praxis says “scientific consensus is that exercise, especially light exercise like the ’75 seconds of laughing out loud’ featured in one ad by Coca-Cola, cannot offset the negative health effects, including obesity and related chronic diseases, of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.”
You never ‘earned’ a Coke, no one ever earns a Coke
“Every day is a mix of food, drinks and physical activity, but some days are more balanced than others,” begins one ad, produced by a partnership between Coke, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper through the American Beverage Association.
The Mixify campaign from 2014 “pitches kids on the notion that they should not be concerned about added sugar or calories,” the plaintiffs argue, misleading them to think that they can consume sugar if they exercise more.
Such false advertising downplays the risk of sugar, the plaintiffs argue. The American Beverage Association, also a defendant in the case, continues to use the term mixify, along other “euphemisms like ‘balance,’ ‘calories in, calories out.’”
Balancing sugar intake with exercise is impossible, Praxis claims, as studies have shown that “even intensive exercise programs often fail to lead to expected weight loss” without changing diet.
The only reason Coke encourages kids to exercise is to hook them on sugar
“Like the tobacco industry, Coca Cola needs to replenish the ranks of its customers, and it tries to recruit them young,” the plaintiffs argue.
One campaign, Coke’s “Get the Ball Rolling,” started in 2013 and still going today,
Beginning in May, 2013, Coca-Cola introduced its “Get the Ball Rolling” program which hosted events it claimed were aimed at “bringing together happiness and movement in a way that only The Coca-Cola company can.”
Coke partnered with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, evidence that the company targets children, Praxis said.
Even though Coke sees the entire lawsuit as “legally and factually meritless,” according to a company spokesman, it still wants to help consumers understand the importance of balance between exercise and sugar intake.
“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 Coke spokesman said.
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