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  • Vitamins belong in foods. Coke sued for marketing Vitaminwater

    Brush with Coke

    Creative Commons License photo credit: AZRainman

    by Vic Shayne, PhD
    Nutrition Research Center

    Right off the bat, let’s make something clear. Vitamins should come from real, whole, pure foods. Vitamins in fancy foo-foo water, as isolated supplement pills, and those used to enrich foods are not natural at all. Why? Because vitamins are found in nature’s foods along with many other “helper” ingredients within a “complex.”

    Once you remove the vitamin from this complex, what you are left with is a chemical. Or worse, scientists can merely create a vitamin in a laboratory. They say it’s the same thing, but don’t you think your body would know the difference?

    VitaminWater doesn’t measure up, despite Coca Cola’s claims

    The Coca-Cola Company makes something they call VitaminWater. Apparently, they are the only ones who believe the health claims, scientifically speaking.

    The huge conglomerate was served notice of a class action lawsuit filed over what the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said are deceptive and unsubstantiated claims on its VitaminWater line of beverages.

    Coke markets VitaminWater as a healthful alternative to soda by labeling its several flavors with such health buzz words as “defense,” “rescue,” “energy,” and “endurance.” The company makes a wide range of dramatic claims, including that its drinks variously reduce the risk of chronic disease, reduce the risk of eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function.

    Promoting health problems instead of curing them

    The drink, VitaminWater, is touted as a healthful drink. But, according to CSPI nutritionists, the 33 grams of sugar in each bottle of VitaminWater do 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.

    VitaminWater contains between zero and one percent juice despite product names such as “endurance peach mango” and “focus kiwi strawberry.”

    Typical consumer thinking

    “When I bought VitaminWater, frankly I thought I was doing myself a favor health-wise,” said the plaintiff, San Francisco, California, resident James Koh, who used to purchase and drink VitaminWater after working out at the gym. “I was attracted by the prospect of getting extra vitamins. But I had no idea that I was actually getting almost a Coke’s worth of sugar and calories. There’s no way I would have spent money on that, had I known.”

    VitaminWater’s website, marketing copy, and labels were claiming that VitaminWater is healthful, claiming, for example, that “balance cran-grapefruit” has “bioactive components” that promote “healthy, pain-free functioning of joints, structural integrity of joints and bones” and that the nutrients in “power-c dragonfruit” “enable the body to exert physical power by contributing to the structural integrity of the musculoskeletal system.”

    Crossing the line into fraudulent advertising

    While it is true that vitamins do play various roles in the human body, the statements on VitaminWater labels go far beyond even the loose, so-called “structure/function claims” allowed by the Food and Drug Administration and cross the line into outright fraud, according to CSPI.

    itaminWater contains between zero and one percent juice, despite the full names of the drinks, which include “endurance peach mango” and “focus kiwi strawberry,” and “xxx blueberry pomegranate acai,” among others. A press release for the “xxx” drink claims its antioxidants makes the drinker “last longer” in some unspecified way; in any event, it has no blueberry, pomegranate, or acai juice, nor do the others have any cranberry, grapefruit, dragon fruit, peach, mango, kiwi, or strawberry juice.

    The need to fool the public

    The people at Coke, like those at Monsanto, KFC, MacDonalds and the rest of their ilk know that their products cause health problems. Too many studies have been done on the effects of sugar and junk foods to ignore the deleterious effects. So Coke thought they’d use the idea of vitamins to lure the more health conscious into using their products. What does this prove? That the company just doesn’t really care. Their goal is to sell drinks and fool the public if that’s what it takes.

    According to documents filed in 2007 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Coke acknowledged that “obesity and other health concerns may reduce demand for some of [its] products,” and that “increasing public awareness” about health experts’ concerns over sugar-sweetened beverage could affect the company’s profitability. That year, Coke acquired VitaminWater’s parent company, Glaceau. Also in 2007, CSPI sued Coke and its partner Nestlé over an artificially sweetened green-tea-based drink called Enviga. The companies claim Enviga burns more calories than it consumes, resulting in weight loss—a claim that CSPI says is not supported by the small number of studies on the drink’s ingredients.

    “Coke fears, probably correctly, that they’ll sell less soda as Americans become increasingly concerned with obesity, diabetes, and other conditions linked to diets too high in sugar,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “VitaminWater is Coke’s attempt to dress up soda in a physician’s white coat. Underneath, it’s still sugar water, albeit sugar water that costs about ten bucks a gallon.” VitaminWater typically retails for about $1.49 for a 20-ounce bottle.

    “My advice to consumers is to get your vitamins from real food,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “If you have reason to believe you have a shortcoming of one vitamin or another, perhaps take an inexpensive supplement. But don’t seek out your vitamins in sugary soft drinks like Coke’s VitaminWater.”

    Center for Science in the Public Interest to the Rescue

    Since 2005, CSPI’s litigation project has, on its own or in cooperation with private law firms, negotiated settlements or voluntary changes to marketing practices with Anheuser-Busch, Airborne, Kellogg, Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, Pinnacle Foods and others. Whatley, Drake & Kallas, LLC is a 35-lawyer firm with offices in Birmingham, New York City, and Boston which concentrates on complex class action and derivative litigation, including consumer, healthcare, insurance, employee benefits, antitrust, securities, and mass tort litigation. Reese Richman LLP handles commercial litigation with a focus on consumer, antitrust, and securities class actions.

    IMPORTANT NOTICE: Statements are made based on independent food science research and have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information contained herein are for educational purposes only and are not to be used for or in place of proper medical diagnosis and care under a qualified physician. Always check with your physician before using any product for contraindications and proper use.

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