Consumer News

Just How ‘Diet’ Is That Diet Soda?

Advocacy group urges federal agencies to investigate what they call deceptive "diet" claims.

Consumer News

Just How ‘Diet’ Is That Diet Soda?

Choosing less caloric Diet Coke over regular Coke seems like a healthy decision. But a new advocacy group argues that consuming artificial sweeteners — such as those in Diet Coke — may actually result in weight gain rather than weight loss.

diet coke

U.S. Right to Know, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit that claims to expose food industry secrets, says research suggests that diet soda and other artificially sweetened products do nothing to curb weight gain and may even contribute to obesity, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

For this reason, the group is now calling on federal officials to prohibit Coca-Cola and PepsiCo from using the term “diet” in advertising for its respective products, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. They say the term is deceptive considering what research indicates about the artificial sweeteners in the soft drinks.

“Lots of scientific evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain, not weight loss,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know. “So how can Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi be advertised as ‘diet’ products?”

Separate petitions to the FTC and the FDA urge the agencies to open a probe into all products containing artificial sweeteners, and point to studies like a 2010 review of scientific literature published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, which concluded that “artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain.”

The advocacy group writes:

Consumers are using products — Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi — that are advertised to make us think they assist in weight loss, when in fact ample scientific evidence suggests that this is not true, and the opposite may well be true. In this respect, the use of the term “diet” appears to be not only deceptive, but perhaps fraudulent as well.

The petitions claim that more than 10,000 products contain either the artificial sweetener aspartame or sucralose. Both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi contain aspartame with the latter also sweetened artificially by acesulfame potassium, the group says. reached out to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo for comment but have not yet heard back.

Meanwhile, legislators in California and New York State are advocating for warning labels similar to those on cigarettes to be put on the packaging of sugary drinks.

Click here for more of our coverage on sugar.

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