So on Thursday, he and another prominent African-American pastor filed suit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming soda manufacturers knowingly deceived customers about the health risks of sugar-sweetened beverages — at enormous cost to their communities.
The complaint, filed in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of the pastors and the Praxis project, a public health group, alleges that Coke and the ABA ran an intentional campaign to confuse consumers about the causes of obesity.
Their case is similar to another suit that was filed, and later withdrawn, last January by the same legal team in California.
The lawsuit marks a break with tradition for African-American and Latino community groups who have been reliable allies of Big Soda for years in policy fights nationwide — despite overwhelming evidence that the harms of drinking soda disproportionately affect their communities.
Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lower-extremity amputations are all far higher among people of color than among whites. These communities also drink more soda and are exposed to more soda advertising.
“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” said Coates, who said he has seen parishioners give bottles filled with sugary drinks to their infants. “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”