Two black Washington D.C. pastors have filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming they have deceived customers about the health risks of consuming their soda with false marketing and advertising that also targets children.
Pastor Delman Coates told The Washington Post: “It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets.” He added, “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”
In an interview with CBS News, Coates explained: “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.”
Coates further noted: “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.”
The pastors filed the complaint with the Praxis Project, a public health group. Praxis Project executive director Xavier Morales noted: “There’s a health crisis in the U.S., especially in our communities, and especially among children. 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 response to the lawsuit’s claims, Coca-Cola issued a statement calling the charges “legally and factually meritless,” adding that the company “will vigorously defend against them.” The statement further noted: “The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption.”
Coates points to science and dishonest marketing practices that he believes cannot be disputed by soft drink companies. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 involved a 20-year evaluation of 120,000 adults and found that those who drank sugary soda every day gained more weight than those subjects who didn’t consume soda. Soda consumption has also been linked to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and gout.
Additionally, studies by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut found ads for soft drinks appear more during TV shows that target black audiences, as well as discovering that black teens see three times as many Coca-Cola ads as white teens do.
Lamar further noted:”I am disgusted by the number of hospital visits I make. It just adds to the injustices all around us.”