Coca-Cola is one of the most popular soda brands in America, but according to a group of D.C. and Maryland-based pastors, it is also harmful to their predominantly black communities.
According to The Florida Times-Union, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal's senior pastor William Lamar and Mt. Ennon Baptist Church's pastor Delman Coates have partnered with a public health organization to sue Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association (ABA).
Filed in D.C. Superior Court, the suit claims that the brand knowingly deceived its customers about the soda’s health risks, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity.
The pastors allege that one of Coke's campaigns intentionally confused consumers regarding obesity, with the ads stating that a lack of exercise and not sugar intake causes obesity. One particular ad cited is the 2013 commercial entitled, “Be OK,” which seemed to suggest that walking, a "victory dance" or even laughing could burn off the calories in a can of Coke.
The suit goes on to state that the beverage giant's marketing tactics are similar to those once used by tobacco companies.
“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” Coates said. “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”
Coates told the Times-Union that as a result of these campaigns, he often witnesses his parishioners giving their infants bottles of Coke.
It is well-known that issues such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease overwhelmingly affect people of color. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that obesity in particular hits black communities hard, with nearly 50 percent of all black Americans affected by obesity, compared to about a third of white Americans.
Data from the CDC also show that black and low-income groups had the highest in soda consumption between the years of 2011-2014.
This doesn’t seem accidental as there appears to be racial targeting in soft drink advertising. According to a 2013 Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University report, black children and teens saw more than twice as many soda ads than their white counterparts.
Coca-Cola is dismissing the pastors’ allegations. “The allegations here are likewise legally and factually meritless, and we will vigorously defend against them,” said Coca-Cola reps in a statement. “The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption.”
The ABA also dismissed the suit, saying, “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.”
Lamar believes that the facts are on his side that that nothing that Coca-Cola does can “negate the science or the fact that their marketing is mendacious.”
Coca-Cola and the ABA have until September to respond to the pastors' suit.