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Heart Truth, Diet Coke and Money

Posted Feb 19 2010 2:16pm

Are you hooked on diet sodas, thinking you can shed a few extra pounds by avoiding sugar?

Here’s what Marcelle Pick, NP, Co-Founder of the Women-to-Women Clinic in Yarmouth, Maine has to say about diet sodas and how they affect women. “Companies have spent billions of dollars convincing all of us that diet soda is the healthier, lighter choice — that all we have to lose is the calories, ergo the weight. And since so many of us are struggling with weight gain, who can blame us if diet soda seems like a dream come true?

But in my experience, it’s actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, fooling women into thinking they are doing something good for their bodies when they are actually sabotaging their own best efforts.

Diet soda may not have the sugar or calories of regular soda, but it’s chock-full of other health-draining chemicals, like caffeine, artificial sweeteners, sodium and phosphoric acid. This is even more concerning when parents give their growing — and chemically vulnerable — children diet soda in a noble effort to avoid sugar.

And while I admit that diet soda may have its uses in the short term — particularly if you are dealing with a sugar addiction — I encourage you to resist it as your default beverage, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Different studies have been flying around on this subject, but a majority show that diet soda may actually set you up to gain even more weight.”

Now a consumer advocacy group is questioning whether Coca-Cola should be allowed to sponsor a national heart health campaign. Granted Coca-Cola has 3.38 grams of sugar per ounce and Diet Coke has zero, but much controversy and scientific evidence swirls around the health risks of Diet Coke.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has issued a letter to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute asking the agency to end its partnership with Coca-Cola in a program that raises awareness of heart disease among women. Diet Coke is the most prominent sponsor of the Heart Truth campaign, which includes heart graphics on Diet Coke cans and appearances by the model Heidi Klum as the “Diet Coke heart health ambassador.”

In a statement, the center’s executive director, Michael Jacobson, compared Coke’s corporate sponsorship with allowing a cigarette maker to fund a government anti-smoking campaign. The fact that the campaign is sponsored by Diet Coke, rather than a sugar-laden soda brand, is irrelevant, he said.

“Coca-Cola promotes heart disease by marketing drinks that contribute to obesity,” Mr. Jacobson wrote. “Coke has long sought to affiliate with or co-opt health groups and associate its brand with athletes and models. I fervently hope that N.H.L.B.I. officials understand that letting Coke bask in their agency’s good reputation does American hearts far more harm than good.”

Coca-Cola defended its participation in the Heart Truth program, saying in a statement:

We’ve used our communications and marketing expertise to reach millions of people with this important heart health message. We’ve made free heart health screenings available to thousands of people across the country. As a result of The Heart Truth campaign, awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among women has risen to nearly 70 percent compared to 34 percent in 2000 when the campaign was first introduced. And since Diet Coke has been involved, awareness of The Heart Truth and our support of it has nearly doubled. We are extraordinarily proud of the work we’ve done in partnership with N.H.L.B.I. and Heidi Klum to have a positive impact on the lives of our consumers.

Since other food marketer, like the snack food company Snyder’s of Hanover and the Sara Lee Corporation, are co-sponsors of the campaign, something’s up here.

Do you think that a government agency should be supported by Diet Coke, when American’s are currently paying dearly for an obesity epidemic that is, at least in part, caused by over-consumption of carbohydrates?

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