U.S. public awareness campaigns about sugary soft drinks are under legal attack by beverage makers, which have sued New York City's health department and hit local governments with requests for documents on the science behind the initiatives.
Efforts to deter consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fatty foods have gained favor in the United States as skyrocketing obesity rates drive up healthcare costs.
The soda industry, which says it is defending its products from "baseless" attacks, and its attorneys have filed at least six document requests with public agencies from California to New York. Anti-obesity advocates say the requests -- which can take hundreds of staff hours for cash-strapped governments to satisfy -- come from the tobacco industry's playbook.
"It is, in our opinion, an effort to overwhelm or smother government employees, who already have too much to do," said Ian McLaughlin, an attorney at the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Oakland, California.
Earlier this month, the American Beverage Association sued New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has been at the forefront of education efforts in the fight against obesity. The ABA says the city improperly withheld documents it sought through the Freedom of Information Act.
ABA spokesman Chris Gindlesperger said his group made the same request as the New York Times, but that the newspaper received more information than the ABA.
"Public health departments are going out and aggressively misrepresenting our products in advertising and using taxpayer money to do that," Gindlesperger said.
A New York health department representative did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit, which is pending in state court.