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Should Diet Soda Be Allowed to Call Itself ‘Diet’?

Consumer advocacy group US Right to Know petitioned the FTC and FDA—and failed—in attempts to stop Coca-Cola and Pepsi from using the word “diet," claiming it's “deceptive, false and misleading.”

by Wyatt Marshall
Oct 19 2015, 3:00pm

On the whole, Americans have been getting their acts together and are switching from downing bucket-sized sodas for other non-soda drinks like, say, water. Or booze.

But one handholding watchdog group thinks soda drinkers are being misled by the supposed health benefits of zero calorie "diet" sodas, and has accused them of false advertising.

READ: Americans Are Ditching Soda in Droves

Earlier this year, the consumer advocacy group US Right to Know petitioned the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Drug Administration to stop Coca-Cola and Pepsi from using the word "diet" in regards to Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi because they claim doing so is "deceptive, false and misleading."

Unfortunately for US Right to Know, the FTC declined to look into it and the FDA said they were too busy.

"It's regrettable that the FTC won't act to halt the deceptions of the 'diet' soda industry," said Gary Ruskin, co-director of US Right to Know, in a press release, throwing diet sodas under the bus with the mocking quotation marks. "I do believe that 'diet' soda will go down in US history as one of the greatest consumer frauds ever," Ruskin said.

US Right to Know cited a number of studies that support its claims that diet soda can lead to weight gain, including one that found "artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence."

That seems to be the case for one British woman who drinks up to 50 cans of Diet Coke every day, and has spent up to £6,000 a year and £150,000 total on that aspartame-laced goodness. When she was younger, her doctor suggested she switch to diet soda to help shed some pounds. She told the Daily Mail that she now has constant headaches and experiences hallucinations, which she blames on Diet Coke.

But on the other hand we've got the woman also dug up by the Daily Mail who drank four liters of regular Coke a day and lost "EIGHT STONE" (112 pounds) after switching to diet. The story ran with the (probably intentionally) misleading header, "Sarah Turner, 27, from Kingstanding, Birmingham, was addicted to coke."

People have been drinking less and less soda anyway. Soda consumption in the US of all kinds has been falling for the past ten years, and just last year, diet sodas got particularly hammered as people switched to other drinks, partially in fear of health effects of artificial sweeteners. The volume of Diet Coke sold in 2014 fell 6.6 percent, while Diet Pepsi fell 5.2 percent. Defying all logic, even the enthusiasm of people "doin' the Diet 'Dew" waned, falling 3 percent.

READ: Soda Is Following in Tobacco's Shady Footsteps

But even as consumption of soda has fallen, Big Soda has you and your mouth covered. Bottled water sales are up 7.3 percent last year, with both Coke's Dasani and PepsiCo's Aquafina benefitting from the shift in consumer tastes.