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article imageThe dark, strange underbelly of Vitamin Water

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By Joan Firstenberg     Aug 8, 2010 in Food
New York - Vitamin Water is not a health drink, so say the folks at Coca-Cola which distributes it. But many of us still think it is when we reach for something to quench our thirst.
It's a strange turn of events in the world of healthy drinks. Coca-Cola is being sued by a non-profit public interest group, charging the giant distributor with making unwarranted health claims about Vitamin Water. But the Huffington Post reports that in a staggering shift in logic, lawyers for Coca-Cola are actually defending the lawsuit, and saying that
"No consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitamin Water was a healthy beverage."
So why the name? And why do we see ads everywhere for the health benefits of Vitamin Water. What it might mean is that is alright for a company to lie about its products, as long as they can turn around and say no one actually believes their lies.
If we look at the actual product, it turns out to be sugar-water, to which about a pinch of synthetic vitamins are added. And the amount of sugar is astounding. A bottle of Vitamin Water has 33 grams of sugar, making it more like a soft drink than a healthy beverage.
So, really what's the harm? It's just a marketing ploy. Some people could say consumers are at least getting a vitamin boost of sorts from this drink, and it doesn't have nearly as much sugar as regular Coke.
Well, that could be true, except that America is experiencing an obesity epidemic. And health experts all agree that it is sugar that plays a big role in this occurrence.
And the real problem is that many people who have weight problems may be drinking Vitamin Water, thinking that it is low calorie and healthy. The truth is that its very name suggests that the product is purely water, with a few vitamins added.
The truth is that Americans now get nearly 25 percent of their calories from liquids. In 2009, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, saying that the quickest, most reliable way to lose weight is to cut down on liquid calories. And the best way to do that is to reduce or eliminate beverages that have added sugar.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has invested billions of dollars on its Vitamin Water line, paying basketball stars, including Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, to appear in ads that emphatically state that these products are a healthy way for consumers to hydrate.
The lawsuit has been brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Wall Street Journal reports that on Friday although Coke had moved to dismiss the suit, the Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York permitted most of the claims to go forward.
Coke stance on this case seems odd. Forced to defend themselves in court, they acknowledge that Vitamin Water isn't a healthy product. But they also argue that advertising it as such isn't false advertising, because no one could possibly believe such a ridiculous claim.
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