For public relations professionals, one of the best ways to improve a client's reputation is through hard data produced by a study or survey. Numbers don't lie, and a positive result from a legitimate industry inquiry is something everyone from senior management to the everyday customer can understand.
That was the thought behind a recent study on the impact of diet soda on weight loss, the results of which were published in the journal Obesity. The study was conducted by Dr. Jim Hill at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and it was funded by the American Beverage Association, whose membership includes numerous Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola bottling companies.
The study asked one group of regular diet soda drinkers to go cold turkey on the beverage while another group would continue to drink diet. Both groups participated in an exercise program and kept a food journal. The study found that over a period of 12 weeks the group that continued drinking soda lost more weight on average than the group that stopped drinking soda.
The study's conclusion: drinking diet soda helps weight loss. If that seems a little hard to believe, you're not alone.
As it turns out, a study on weight loss and dieting that lasts 12 weeks is about as good as one that last 12 minutes—it's simply too short of a period of time to get reliable results.
Funding a survey on your own industry is a risky move, as the organization providing the cash can often appear to be gaming the research to obtain a desired finding. In the case of the diet soda study, the American Beverage Association unsurprisingly got the headline they wanted. That's some creative, positive PR for the diet soda team, but digging a bit deeper into the story reveals that central finding to be misleading at best and outright dishonest at worst.
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