A new study fully funded by the American Beverage Association — whose members include Coca-Cola and Pepsi — draws some favorable conclusions for the soda industry, suggesting that drinking diet beverages can help people lose weight. The findings contradict previous studies that have found diet soda is linked to weight gain and health problems.
Researchers conducted a 12-week clinical trial with a sample size of 303 people. Participants were split into two groups: one that was allowed to drink at least 24 ounces of diet beverages each day, and one that wasn’t allowed to drink any soda or add artificial sweeteners to their coffee. The two groups both participated in the same weight loss treatment program, and at the end of the three month period, researchers found that the people that were allowed to drink diet soda had lost an average of four additional pounds.
The study authors concluded that it’s easier for people to stick to a diet and exercise plan if they’re not also depriving themselves of the diet sodas they’re used to drinking.
“This research allows dieters to feel confident that low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages can play an important and helpful role as part of an effective and comprehensive weight loss strategy,” John Peters, one of the co-authors of the study and the chief strategy officer at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, said in a statement.
But other public health researchers have criticized the study’s methods, saying that a 12-week trial is too short to discern the long-term health effects of soda. “What the prospective studies actually suggest is that if you go out 7 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, the cohorts of individuals who are consuming diet sodas have much worse health outcomes,” Susan Swithers, a professor at Purdue University whose research has found that diet soda drinkers have the same health issues as soda drinkers, told CNN.
And the participants in the study were already regular diet soda drinkers, so it makes sense they may have struggled to cut out those beverages in addition to other dietary restrictions. The authors acknowledged that the positive effects of drinking diet soda likely won’t be as significant for people who aren’t already regularly consuming it.
Officials from the American Beverage Association did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment, and pointed to the press release about the new study.
This is hardly the first time there have been questions over the beverage industry’s involvement in research. In 2007, a review of over 100 different studies related to beverages found the industry paid for the majority of that research. Furthermore, the studies funded exclusively by the industry were up to eight times more likely to result in favorable conclusions for beverage companies, compared to the research that wasn’t backed by their dollars. “It is a strong association. It raises concern for bias,” the main author of that review, Dr. David Ludwig, said at the time.
Big food corporations also give directly to scientists and medical groups. In 2008, a well-known scientist who was tapped to be the president of the Obesity Society handed in his resignation after he was exposed to have financial ties with corporations like the American Beverage Association, Kraft, McDonald’s, and General Mills. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was criticized for accepting $10 million for obesity research from the soda industry. And after the American Association of Family Physicians took a six-figure sponsorship deal from Coca-Cola, some angry doctors left the organization.
In fact, some public health advocates have accused the food and drink industries of using the same tactics once employed by Big Tobacco to mislead Americans about their products. The American Beverage Association has resisted comparisons between soda and tobacco, pointing out that soda is not inherently harmful, unlike smoking.