Coke on the Rocks

Early last year, the Praxis Project and allies (the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Public Health Advocacy Institute) prepared a case against the Coca-Cola Company that they originally planned to file in California.

There are laws against unfair competition and false advertising. The organizations contend that Coke has violated these laws by engaging in a pattern of deception, by lying to customers about the danger posed by sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and by denying any connection between the products and the rampant spread of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders. They are also angry about the corporation’s alleged Responsible Marketing Policy, which particularly affects kids 12 and younger.

Basically, the complaint says that Coke knows that it is lying — makes “deceptive representations.” But most consumers don’t know about the lies, and if they knew the truth, they would make different purchasing decisions.

In order to be a plaintiff, Praxis must define how Coke hurts that organization. Praxis makes the accusation that it has suffered harm because it “has been forced to expend substantial resources attempting to educate the public and policy-makers” and to “divert its resources to fight these trends and inform consumers of the truth.”

There is much to educate the public about, including the defendant’s non-transparent and manipulative marketing techniques. The advertising tries to sell the idea that a fizzy drink is a reasonable snack, and a sane way to remain healthfully hydrated.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that Coke and the American Beverage Association have expended a great deal of money and energy to attack any science that connects the dots between SSBs and obesity and its co-morbidities. Because the manufacturers’ energy balance theory claims that all calories are created equal, anything that goes wrong is the consumer’s fault, for not doing enough exercise to counteract the effects of drinks laden with sugar. The industry not only lies about this, but compounds the lie by claiming that the preponderance of scientific evidence supports their nonsense.

Another dimension to the problem

After withdrawing the California lawsuit for tactical reasons, last summer Praxis and friends brought extra plaintiffs on board and filed instead in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The new participants are Reverend William H. Lamar IV, and Reverend Delman Coates, who both have firsthand knowledge of the devastation visited upon the African-American community by sugar-sweetened beverages.

Both pastors inwardly shudder at the sight of their congregants giving soda to infants in nursing bottles. In hospitals and homes, they visit parishioners who are blind or have lost limbs to amputation, because of diabetes.

Rev. Coates and Rev. Lamar officiate at the funerals of people who die early and unnecessarily of degenerative diseases linked to obesity and the consumption of sugar. Rev. Coates says, “We’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets.”

Xavier Morales, executive director of the Praxis Project, says:

When one in every two Latino and African American youth born since 2000 are expected to get diabetes in their lifetime, we need to stand up and take action.

Caitlin Dewey, for The Washington Post, pointed out an interesting fact:

The lawsuit marks a break with tradition for African American and Latino community groups who have been reliable allies of Big Soda for years in policy fights across the country — despite overwhelming evidence that the harms of drinking soda impact their communities disproportionately.

She cites multiple Rudd Center studies demonstrating that TV shows designed for black audiences tend to carry more soda ads, and that billboards touting junk food are concentrated in black and brown neighborhoods. Dewey also reminds readers of Marion Nestle’s book Soda Politics, which mentioned that SSB manufacturers have generously funded such advocacy groups as the NAACP. Some critics have always cast a jaundiced eye on that munificence, seeing the financial support as just a sneaky way to open up new consumer markets while buying undeserved approval and loyalty.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief,”, 01/17/17
Source: “Lawsuit Alleges Coca-Cola, American Beverage Association Deceiving Public About Soda-Related Health Problems,”, 07/13/17
Source: “We’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets’: Why two black pastors are suing Coca-Cola,”, 07/13/17
Photo via Visualhunt

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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