Two black pastors filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association last week, claiming that soda manufacturers knowingly deceive consumers about the health risks associated with the drinks, costing their communities lives through illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
The complaint was filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of William Lamar, the senior pastor at D.C.’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church; Delman Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church; and the public health group Praxis Project. The suit claims that Coca-Cola and the ABA ran an ad to confuse customers about the causes of obesity, adding that the marketing of soda has made it more difficult for them to protect the health of their mostly black parishioners, the Washington Post reports.
“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” Coates told the Post. “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”
As the report notes, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and other ailments affect more people of color than their white counterparts. Those communities also consume more soda and are more exposed to advertising about soda.
Coca-Cola, however, is dismissing the claims against it, saying that the company “understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption,” and pointing to the development of low-calorie and no-calorie beverages.
“We support the recommendation of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), that people should limit their intake of added sugar to no more than 10 percent of their total daily calorie intake. We have begun a journey toward that goal,” Coke said in a statement, according to the Post. “So we are taking action to offer people more drinks in smaller, more convenient sizes, reducing sugar in many of our existing beverages, and making more low- and no-sugar beverage choices available and easier to find at local stores. We’ll also continue making calorie and nutrition information clear and accessible so people can make more informed choices for themselves and their families without the guesswork.”
Still, the complaint accuses Coke’s executives of investing millions into research, sponsored blog posts and other advertising campaigns to disprove or blur the link between soda consumption and disease.
“There’s a health crisis in the U.S., especially in our communities, and especially among children,” Xavier Morales, executive director of the Praxis Project, told the Post. “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.”
Read more at the Washington Post.