Two pastors from Washington, D.C., have filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association saying the organizations have purposely deceived the public about sugar-sweetened beverages and their impact on health.
In the city of Atlanta, the corporate headquarters for Coca-Cola is almost as popular as the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and gravesite of the slain civil rights leader.
But after decades of sponsoring events and making commercials that have endeared Coke to many African-Americans, a lawsuit recently filed in D.C. Superior Court charges that the amounts of sugar the beverage company puts in its products doesn’t make it a real friend to the black community at all.
Rev. William Lamar, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in the District, who filed the lawsuit last week said, “In the District of Columbia, more people die of diabetic-related illnesses than from murder, cancer and AIDS combined, Our goal is to stop corporate audacity because it affects our community.”
“It is a matter of life and death in our communities,” Lamar added.
The suit charges that despite scientifically established links between sugary drinks and obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, Coca-Cola continues to engage in deceptive practices in the marketing of its products to the African-American community.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012 research showed daily regular soda and fruit drink consumption was most common among black and Hispanic Americans.
Other studies have linked drinking sugary beverages to diabetes, heart disease, and higher death rates.
Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., and the Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization focused on building healthier communities, are also parties in the lawsuit.
Coates said, referring to Coca-Cola’s recent backing of the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual legislative conference, “This is about saving lives, this is not about sponsorships for a dinner, When people look at the amount of sugar served in a Coca-Cola and compare that to the recommendations of the American Heart Association, they will come around.”
According to the pastors, it is because Coke’s commercials often feature misleading images of young, slender people gulping the fizzy beverage, smiling, and sharing good times.
According to The Blaze report:
“It breaks my heart and I’m saddened by the way in which we’re losing so many people. I’m losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” Delman Coates added. However, the pastors’ claims aren’t supported by available evidence. In fact, most surveys show people believe sugar to be harmful, but choose to consume it anyway, another article on The Blaze reported.
This hasn’t deterred the pastors from blaming the company, though. “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,” William Lamar claimed. “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. The silence around this issue is violence.”
The lawsuit claims the soda maker and beverage trade association have not only used deceptive marketing but also “sought deceptively to switch the focus from sugar-sweetened beverages to inactivity as the key driver of obesity and related epidemics, including through their expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars on research and programs that almost exclusively highlight exercise.”
“I’m deeply saddened by the way African-American slaves were used for the production of sugar and now African-Americans are dying because of sugar,” Delman Coates said, adding that trying to encourage the minority communities to live a healthier lifestyle is an uphill battle. “We are challenged by the messages they’re receiving from the beverage industry and companies like Coca-Cola,” he alleged.
“Our hope is that Coca-Cola will discontinue marketing these drinks as something that is healthful and healthy,” William Lamar said, but instead, Coca-Cola dismissed the pastors’ allegations, calling them “legally and factually meritless,” adding that they “will vigorously defend against them.”
“America’s beverage companies know we have an important role to play in addressing our nation’s health challenges. That’s why we’re engaging with health groups and community organizations to drive a reduction in the sugar and calories Americans get from beverages, Unfounded accusations like these won’t do anything to address health concerns, but the actions we’re taking, particularly in areas where obesity rates are among the highest, can make a difference,” the American Beverage Association said in a statement defending the industry’s conduct.
Whether you believe the soda company is misleading the public, calling their marketing “racist” actually prevents any meaningful conversation from occurring. There are a whole lot of white people in those ads, which are obviously aimed at anyone, regardless of skin color. Making this a race issue doesn’t do anyone any favors. Actually, that assertion by the pastors is racist in itself.
It’s as if they are saying blacks and Latinos are more susceptible to marketing influences than whites. I prefer to believe that we are all capable of having personal accountability and smart enough to know that the purpose of commercials is to make a product look good. Advertisements aren’t a study on the product’s risks and benefits — that research is up to us. And, all of us are able to inform ourselves and decide what we want to do, regardless of our race.
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