U.S. Right to Know filed citizen petitions calling on the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to stop companies from branding artificially sweetened products with the word “diet.”
WASHINGTON — Citing research suggesting that diet soft drinks and other artificially sweetened products contribute to weight gain, a new advocacy group is asking federal regulators to investigate whether manufacturers have engaged in false or misleading advertising.
The California-based group, U.S. Right to Know, filed citizen petitions Thursday calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop those firms from branding artificially sweetened products with the word “diet.”
“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,” says the petition.
The American Beverage Association, speaking for Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other soft-drink makers, said numerous studies showed “diet beverages are an effective tool as part of an overall weight management plan.”
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The petitions filed Thursday call for inquiries into the marketing of products that contain any artificial sweeteners, not just those with the most popular sugar substitute, aspartame, which is used in more than 5,000 products.
Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi contain aspartame, which has been mainly sold under the brand name NutraSweet and is consumed worldwide. Last year, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi ranked third and seventh, respectively, in U.S. carbonated soft-drink sales, according to Beverage Digest.
Safety controversies have clouded the use of a number of artificial sweeteners for decades. But Gary Ruskin, Right to Know’s executive director, said he thought his group was the first to call for investigations into possible deceptive marketing.
The petitions point to a number of studies in recent years that have challenged the belief that ingesting noncaloric sweeteners helps with weight loss.
• A 2010 review of scientific literature, published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, that concluded “research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain.”
• A two-year study of 164 children, published in 2005 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, that found overweight kids and others who gained weight drank more diet sodas than normal-weight children.
• A nationwide study, called Growing Up Today, of more than 10,000 children ages 9 to 14 that found that, for boys, intakes of diet soda “were significantly associated with weight gains.”
Neither the FDA nor the FTC would comment on the petitions.