Were Losing More People to the Sweets Than to the Streets

By Dewey, Caitlin | Sunday Gazette-Mail, July 16, 2017 | Go to article overview

Were Losing More People to the Sweets Than to the Streets


Dewey, Caitlin, Sunday Gazette-Mail


Why 2 black pastors are suing Big Soda

WASHINGTON William Lamar, the senior pastor at D.C.s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, is tired of presiding over funerals for parishioners who died of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. So on Thursday, he and another prominent African-American pastor filed suit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming soda manufacturers knowingly deceived customers about the health risks of sugar-sweetened beverages at enormous cost to their communities.

The complaint, filed in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of the pastors and the Praxis project, a public health group, alleges that Coke and the ABA ran an intentional campaign to confuse consumers about the causes of obesity.

Lamar and Delman Coates, pastor at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in suburban Clinton, Maryland, claim soda marketing has made it harder to protect the health of their largely black, D.C.-based parishioners.

Their case is similar to another suit that was filed, and later withdrawn, last January by the same legal team in California.

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 nationwide despite overwhelming evidence that the harms of drinking soda disproportionately affect their communities.

Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lower-extremity amputations are all far higher among people of color than among whites. These communities also drink more soda and are exposed to more soda advertising.

Its become really clear to me that were losing more people to the sweets than to the streets, said Coates, who said he has seen parishioners give bottles filled with sugary drinks to their infants. Theres a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think thats largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.

In a statement, Coca-Cola dismissed the pastors charges and the merits of the earlier lawsuit in California, which lawyers say they withdrew in order to refile with the new plaintiffs.

The allegations here are likewise legally and factually meritless, and we will vigorously defend against them, the statement said. The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption.

This suit, much like the prior one in California, argues that the beverage industry has deceived consumers about the unique link between soda consumption and diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes using messaging tactics similar to those once used by tobacco companies.

According to the complaint, Coca-Cola executives have repeatedly invested millions of dollars in research, sponsored blog posts and advertising campaigns intended to disprove or confuse the link between soda consumption and disease. The companys ads and its executives, as well as a number of compensated nutrition bloggers, have also advanced the argument that lack of exercise is primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic and that the calories consumed in soda can be offset easily by increasing physical activity.

In 2013, Coca-Cola developed a 30-second prime-time TV ad, called Be OK, that claimed a brief walk, a single victory dance or a brief laughing spell were sufficient to burn the 140 calories in a can of Coke.

Coca-Cola Senior Vice President Katie Bayne also famously told a USA Today reporter in 2012 that there is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.

The suit argues that science shows otherwise: There is, in fact, a well-established link between soda consumption and obesity, though the exact mechanism of that link is not well understood. A 20-year study of 120,000 adults, published in 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that people who drank an extra soda per day gained more weight over time than those who did not. …

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