Two prominent black pastors in the Washington D.C area filed a lawsuit on July 13 against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association — claiming that the soft drink companies deceived customers about health risks regarding the consumption of 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 spoke further of the controversy 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 support for the lawsuit and offered his own reasoning for taking on the company.
“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,” Lamar said.
“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 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,” Xavier Morales, the executive director of the group, said. “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,” and added that the company would “vigorously defend against them.”
Coates argues that, despite denial from the companies, they would not be able to “negate the science or the fact that their marketing is mendacious.”
A 20-year study of 120,000 adults, which was 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 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, studies by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut showed. The studies also found that black teens saw three times as many Coca-Cola ads than white teens did. Additionally, black and Latino neighborhoods were found to have more outdoor ads for low-nutrient foods than white neighborhoods.
“I am disgusted by the number of hospital visits I make,” Lamar concluded. “It just adds to the injustices all around us.”