Federal Trade Commission Urged to Crack Down on Enviga
CSPI Says “Calorie Burning” and Weight Loss Claims Illegal
May 21, 2007
WASHINGTON—The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should take enforcement action against Coca-Cola and Nestlé for their unlawful deceptive advertising for Enviga, their green-tea-flavored diet soda, according to a complaint filed with the agency today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). At issue is the companies’ claim that Enviga burns more calories than the five calories per can it delivers, which, CSPI says, strongly implies weight loss. CSPI is separately suing Coke and Nestlé in federal court on the same issue but says that shouldn’t stop the FTC from cracking down immediately on the false advertising.
The companies deny that Enviga is positioned as a weight-loss product, but the Enviga web site tells a different story, according to CSPI. There, Enviga is “much smarter than following fads, quick-fixes, and crash diets” and is “another way to keep those extra calories from building up.” It is described as the “calorie burner” that “invigorates your metabolism” and provides “negative calories.”
The companies have largely based those claims on a Swiss study they funded. Subjects in that test were given the equivalent of three cans’ worth of Enviga’s key ingredients: an antioxidant found in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), caffeine, and calcium. An initial abstract of the study—which involved only 31 lean subjects and lasted only 72 hours—indicated that, on average, the participants expended extra energy. But surprisingly, the full study, published in the February issue of the journal Obesity, disclosed that six participants actually expended less energy. When the study was published, The Obesity Society, the sponsor of the journal, issued a press release stating, “This was a very small sample demonstrating a very small effect….Far more extensive studies are needed before any claim for efficacy in human weight management can or should be made on the basis of this study.”
“If one accepts the companies’ logic at face value, one in every five Enviga drinkers is likely to gain, not lose, weight,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “That’s not to say Enviga will make you fat, but there’s certainly no basis for a weight-loss claim. It’s hucksterism. It’s illegal. And Coca-Cola and Nestle should be made to follow the law.”
As weak as the Swiss study is, most of the other studies are even less encouraging, according to CSPI. In two longer studies, the combination of EGCG and caffeine did not increase energy expenditure or body weight any more than a placebo.
Because there is inadequate substantiation of the claims in Enviga’s marketing and advertising, the companies should be prohibited from making them and should pay fines and sponsor corrective advertising, says CSPI. “Enviga drinkers are being suckered into paying a premium for calorie-burning benefits they are not receiving,” according to the filing. Enviga costs around $1.39 a can. Though the companies’ claim a calorie-burning effect can be obtained from only one can, elsewhere they indicate that the maximum effect would be gained by drinking three cans, or more than $4 worth, of Enviga per day.
The FTC already maintains that claims of weight loss without the need for extra physical activity or consuming fewer calories are inherently deceptive. (One Coke executive made the astonishing claim to USA Today that Enviga can replace walking up the stairs.) And, in a 2003 report on combating weight-loss fraud, the FTC found that claims that a product causes everyone to lose weight are also deceptive. CSPI says Enviga’s advertising runs afoul of the FTC’s findings on both of those counts.
“If you want a lighter wallet, drink Enviga,” said Jacobson. “If you want a lighter you, drink water.”