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Food influencers paid by Coca Cola to claim artificial sweeteners are safe

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Food influencers on TikTok and Instagram are being paid by Coca Cola and Pepsi to make dangerous claims about sugar and artificial sweeteners to their millions of followers.

Around a dozen food experts and dietitians made 35 posts as part of a coordinated campaign to counter World Health Organization (WHO) concerns about aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in diet cola drinks.  The WHO said aspartame didn’t help people lose weight and could possibly be carcinogenic.

Dietitian Steph Grasso announced to her 2.2 million followers on TikTok that the WHO’s concerns were based on ‘low-quality science’ while another dietitian, Cara Harbstreet, told her Instagram followers not to worry about ‘fear-mongering headlines’ about aspartame because the “evidence doesn’t suggest there’s a reason for concern,” reporters from the Washingtom Post discovered.

A third influencer, Mary Ellen Phipps, who specialises in diabetes care, filmed herself drinking a soda and told her Instagram followers that artificial sweeteners can “satisfy the desire for sweetness” without affecting blood sugar levels.

But none of them revealed that they were being paid by American Beverage—a lobby group that represents Coca Cola, Pepsi and other soda manufacturers—to make the announcements.

The reporters discovered that the aspartame campaign is just one of many that have recruited influencers to encourage their followers to eat sweets and ice cream, while downplaying the dangers of processed food.

Of the 68 dietitians they investigated, the reporters discovered that half of them had been paid to promote foods that have been associated with chronic health problems.

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Washingtom Post, September 13, 2023
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