Coca-Cola wants you to know that it’s totally cool to consume aspartame. You know, the diet sugar substitute that’s been linked with cancer in lab animals? It’s the same stuff they swap for the high-fructose corn syrup to make Diet Coke, and it’s perfectly healthy. Or so says a new public service-y print ad Coke launched in copies of Wednesday’s USA Today distributed in the Atlanta area, according to the Associated Press.
“Time and again, these low- and no-calorie sweeteners have shown to be safe, high-quality alternatives to sugar,” reads the ad copy. “In fact, the safety of aspartame is supported by more than 200 studies over the last 40 years.”
So wait. Will it kill us? Will it not? Probably not, but potentially, possibly so, is the easiest way to sum up the research. Essentially, the link between the artificial sweetener and cancer is tenuous (and has frequently been debunked), a fact exhibited by the 2012 study on the topic published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It had promised to be a bomb, documenting a definitive link between aspartame and increased risk of leukemia, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other forms of blood-related cancer. But then, on the day of it publication, the journal talked down the hype.
“Upon review of the findings, the consensus of our scientific leaders is that the data is weak,” and that the promotion of the study was premature, Erin McDonough, the senior vice-president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where the study was conducted, wrote to NPR.
Weak is not definitive and it is not perfectly safe, of course. Others, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, are sticking with the cancer narrative, full-stop. The FDA? The administration, like Coke, says aspartame is fine.
All in all, it sounds like running an ad saying the jury is still out on artificial sweeteners would be a more accurate portrayal, but that wouldn’t help the flagging sales of Diet Coke—down three percent last year—now would it?