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Drink this product and lose weight? Doubts persist
San Francisco Chronicle


February 08, 2007

Consumers cruising the aisles of supermarkets this week will find a new green tea beverage with an astounding claim - drink it and burn calories.

The Coca-Cola Co. and Nestle say consuming three cans a day of their new product, Enviga, will burn 60 to 100 calories - and you don't have to run laps around the track, pedal a stationary bicycle or even bench-press weights. These calories can be burned merely by lifting the cans from table to mouth.




It seems too good to be true, and some say it is. In fact, one watchdog group already has filed a false-advertising lawsuit against the two companies, and Connecticut's attorney general has launched an investigation into the calorie-burning claim.

But Coca-Cola representatives insist that the drink has been scientifically tested and that it works. Food industry specialists say this is the first time beverages have been marketed as negative-calorie drinks, and they believe it could be the wave of the future. Last year, Elite FX Inc., which started as a food research company in Florida, released Celsius, a green tea soft drink that the firm claims is the world's first calorie-burning beverage.

Green tea has become one of the nation's leading wonder ingredients, touted as an antioxidant that fights cancer and heart disease. While some clinical trials show a link between drinking green tea and increasing metabolism, most health experts don't consider it a weight-loss supplement.

But if consumers bite, food industry analysts expect to see many so-called calorie-busting drinks flooding supermarkets. After all, energy drinks have become a $1 billion industry in this country, and analysts estimate that revenues will jump to nearly $2 billion by 2010.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Pepsi wasn't already working on something like this," said Marc Halperin of the Center for Culinary Development, a San Francisco firm that works with manufacturers to formulate new products. "Who wouldn't want to sit in front of the TV, eating chips and salami but still burning calories?"

Rhona Applebaum, vice president and chief scientific and regulatory officer at Coca-Cola, says it's not that simple.

"This is in no way, shape or form a weight-loss fix," she said. "There is no magic bullet for that. We're targeting young adults who are health- and fitness-conscious."

Maybe so, but the phrase "The Calorie Burner" is right above the Enviga name on the front of the can. It isn't until consumers read the bottom of the back of the container that they find out that results have been seen only in "healthy, normal-weight 18- to 35-year-olds."

Steve Gardner, litigation director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington nonprofit nutrition-advocacy group, said, "It's a known fact that consumers don't read the fine print."

And, added Gardner, whose organization filed a federal lawsuit last week in New Jersey against the makers of Enviga, it's not thin people who will be lured by the slogan on the drink.

"Coke has repeatedly said that Enviga is not being marketed as a weight-loss product," Gardner said. "Well, what does 'Calorie Burner' mean? And who do you think is going to be attracted to it? People who want to lose weight."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office has taken an interest in a number of consumer issues over the years, is dubious.

"Unless there are credible scientific studies to support these calorie-burning claims, they may be nothing more than voodoo nutrition," he said in a press release.

Blumenthal has demanded that the soft drink giants turn over their scientific studies, clinical trials, tests and any documentation that can support claims that Enviga burns calories.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says Enviga should have been called " 'Fleece,' since that's what they're trying to do to consumers," referring to Coca-Cola and Nestle urging customers to drink three cans a day. At between $1.29 and $1.49 a can, that would be at least $116 a month, he said.

Christine Skibola, a University of California- Berkeley professor and research toxicologist, says there is no question that green tea has many health benefits. But as far as keeping weight off, there's only one real solution:

"Eat right," she said. "And get plenty of exercise."

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