Soft drink giants head to court over claims about new drink

A nonprofit consumer watchdog group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is taking soft drinks giants Coca-Cola and Nestle to court for making fraudulent claims about a new drink.

The marketing and labeling for the new drink Enviga, an artificially sweetened green tea soft drink, is touting the drink as a "calorie burner" and a weight-loss aid.

According to the hype by the manufacturers Enviga has "negative calories" and can "keep those extra calories from building up."

Enviga claims to be "much smarter than following fads, quick fixes, and crash diets", but according to CSPI scientists who reviewed the studies cited by Coke and Nestle, Enviga is quite simply just another highly caffeinated diet soda, which is over-priced and exactly what it claims not to be.

The lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, part of the region in which the beverage is being introduced.

The CSPI served formal notification to the companies in December that if they continued to use the unsubstantiated calorie-burning and weight-loss claims on Enviga labels and in advertisements, they would be sued.

However the company indicated publicly and privately that it had no plans to change the claims.

Enviga is comprised of carbonated water, calcium, concentrated green tea extract, so-called "natural flavors", caffeine, phosphoric acid, and the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium.

The company claims the green tea extracts are high in an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG.

The claims appear to be based on an extremely short (72-hour) Nestle-funded study of 31 people of normal weight who were given a drink containing amounts of EGCG and caffeine equivalent to three cans of Enviga.

According to Nestle the participants expended more energy and those who drank three of the 12-ounce drinks a day burned an average of 106 calories.

When the study was presented at a conference of the Obesity Society, the publishers of the journal Obesity, the society disputed the study's conclusions, stating "it is improper to state or imply that the results of this study supports any weight loss" claim.

No test of Enviga has lasted more than three days and a European study found that EGCG and caffeine did not increase energy expenditure after one month and did not help people lose weight.

A longer-term Japanese study appeared to show that a tea fortified with EGCG and caffeine did help people lose more weight than a control tea, but the study was conducted by a tea company and the participants were 38 of the tea company's male employees.

David Schardt a senior nutritionist with the CSPI says there is no clear evidence that what is in Enviga will help control weight and a person would do better to give up non-diet soda or join a gym, which is in the long run less expensive than buying 3 cans of Enviga a day.

The CSPI's litigation unit was set up in 2004 with the aim of curbing deceptive labeling, marketing campaigns or other practices that potentially harm consumers' health.

Richard Blumenthal the Attorney General for Connecticut says his office is investigating the claims made by Coca-Cola and Nestle regarding Enviga.

Blumenthal has demanded copies of all scientific studies, clinical trials, tests and papers that prove the calorie-burning claim by next week and says promises of weight loss must be supported by science, not magic.

Nestle has referred all calls for comment to Coca-Cola.

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