Coca-Cola’s bid to dismiss a class action lawsuit over deceptive health claims about its VitaminWater line of beverages has been denied by a federal judge. The class action lawsuit was filed last year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which charged that the company’s claims that VitaminWater is “healthy” because of added vitamins is not only untrue, but violates FDA rules.
VitaminWater is marketed as a healthy alternative to soda by labeling the bottles with buzz terms such as “defense” and “rescue,” and promoting it as a “Nutrient Enhanced Water Beverage” that contains extra vitamins that “reduce the risk of chronic disease, reduce the risk of eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function.”
The truth is VitaminWater contains a whopping 33 grams of sugar — just 6 grams less than a can of Coke. Even with the added vitamins, CSPI says, “sugar does more to promote obesity, diabetes and other health problems than the vitamins in the drinks do to perform the advertised benefits listed on the bottles.”
The other major problem? The FDA prohibits food makers from adding vitamins or other nutrients to an otherwise unhealthy food in order to make a health claim. The judge found that the company’s use of the word “healthy” and its health claims about the benefits of the drinks — while omitting the fact that the key ingredient is sugar — violates the FDA’s regulation on vitamin-fortified foods.
“The central message of these claims is that VitaminWater is not a sugary soft drink and that drinking it provides a significant source of dietary supplements,” the class action lawsuit says. “This message is false, deceptive and unfair. VitaminWater is not a beneficial fortified drink — it is just another flavored, sugary snack food like Coca-Cola” without the carbonation.
“My advice to consumers is to get your vitamins from real food,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. “Don’t seek out your vitamins in sugary soft drinks like Coke’s VitaminWater.”
The class action lawsuit is seeking monetary relief and compensatory and punitive damages for consumers, claiming Coke charges consumers twice as much for VitaminWater compared to Coke’s other soft drinks.
“For too long, Coca-Cola has been exploiting Americans’ desire to eat and drink more healthfully by deceiving them into thinking that VitaminWater can actually prevent disease,” said CSPI’s litigation director. “In fact, VitaminWater is no more than non-carbonated soda, providing unnecessary added sugar and contributing to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and other diseases. We look forward to representing all Americans whom Coke has deceived.”
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