Two prominent black pastors in the Washington D.C area filed a lawsuit July 13 against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming soft drink companies deceive customers about the health risks of consuming their products.
"It's become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets," Pastor Delman Coates told The Washington Post. "There's a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that's largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns."
Coates elaborated in an interview with CBS News. "The background of this lawsuit is that there's an epidemic of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a range of other degenerative diseases in the black and Latino communities, and really throughout America," he explained. "For me, as a pastor, I see the toll it takes on families and children when they lose their parents much too soon. It breaks my heart and I'm saddened by the way in which we're losing so many people."
Pastor William Lamar added: "It is a matter of life and death in our communities. Marketing for Coca-Cola is focused around health and fun and showing very sexy bodies in their advertising. You never see an obese person. If the people are consuming Coca-Cola at this rate, there is no way those bodies would look like that. It's almost as if they are selling joy. They are equating this product with the things that people are hoping for -- joy, smiles, family. But this product will not deliver that. It delivers the exact opposite. Silence around this issue is violence."
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The complaint was filed in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of the pastors and the Praxis Project, a public health group.
"There's a health crisis in the U.S., especially in our communities, and especially among children," said Xavier Morales, the executive director of the group. “They target our communities with their marketing. We’re going into those communities trying to save lives, and they’re going out and erasing our message."
In a statement, Coca-Cola dismissed the charges as "legally and factually meritless," adding that the company "will vigorously defend against them."
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Coates argues that, despite their denials, the soft drink companies cannot "negate the science or the fact that their marketing is mendacious."
A 20-year study of 120,000 adults, published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" in 2011, found that people who drank an extra sugary soda every day gained more weight over time than those who did not. Other studies have linked consumption of soft drinks to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gout.
Advertisements for soft drinks appear more frequently during TV shows targeted to black audiences, according to studies by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, which also found that black teens see three times as many Coca-Cola ads than white teens do. In addition, black and Latino neighborhoods have more outdoor ads for low-nutrient foods than do white neighborhoods.
"I am disgusted by the number of hospital visits I make," Lamar concluded. "It just adds to the injustices all around us."