"Coronary In Cone" Companies Threatened With Law Suits
For Failing to Warn About Artery-Clogging Fats and Calories

        Six major ice cream parlor chains have been put on legal notice that they may be sued if they don't begin disclosing just how much artery-clogging fat and calories their offerings contain, especially by children shopping alone who lack adult knowledge and judgment, and who may be particularly susceptible. 
        The move comes in the wake of four successful "fat law suits"; recent moves by Kraft, McDonald's, Frito-Lay, and other companies to respond to concerns about obesity litigation; more information about the size and severity of pediatric obesity; growing legal pressure forcing major school districts to ban or cut back on serving fattening foods and drinks to students; and the discovery that at least one ice cream parlor already provides this information to customers old and young.
        "While many people know that ice cream isn't a diet food, many don't appreciate - because they aren't really being told - just how bad it is, says public interest law professor John F. Banzhaf III who authored the letter with Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director of Center for Science in the Public Interest.
        Prof. Banzhaf suggests that most people are unlikely to suspect that:
    ■ one ice cream cone, even without any ice cream, can contain half a day's worth of saturated fat
    ■ a frozen yogurt advertised as "fat free" actually contains 11 grams of fat and far more calories than it claims
    ■ a frozen yogurt advertised as "96% fat free" still contains a quarter-of-a-day's worth of saturated fat
    ■ a single ice cream sundae can contain two whole day's worth of saturated fat
    ■ drinking one milk shake can be like eating three McDonald's Quarter Pounders
        "McDonald's learned the hard way that failure to disclose a 'material fact' - something which consumers might not know or appreciate - can create millions of dollars in potential liability, even if the fact is of interest only to a very small fraction of their customers," said Banzhaf.  He referred to the company's failure to disclose that its french fries contained minute amounts of beef fat, something which was of interest only to Muslims, Hindus, and vegans. Similarly, three supermarket chains recently were sued for not disclosing that the coloring they had added to their salmon didn't indicate that the fish were wild rather than farm raised.
        "Patrons of ice cream parlors, including adults but especially children, cannot be expected to exercise personal responsibility unless they are given appropriate nutritional information - as they are when they look at nutrition labels in food stores - about how fattening and fat clogging a product is," argues Banzhaf. 
        Children who get diabetes - as one third of them now will - which was caused in part by eating ice cream which they may have known was fattening, but never dreamed might have two day's worth of saturated fat, or by  thoughtfully selecting 'fat free' frozen yogurt only to find out later than it contains 11 grams of fat; or by not realizing that even an empty ice cream cone can contain half a day's worth of saturated fat, can and probably will be able to recover appropriate damages."
        The fact that one ice cream parlor does list the calorie, fat, protein, and carbohydrate content on the glass display case over each tub of frozen dessert  shows that even those within the industry recognize that the public not only doesn't know but also needs this very information.  It also shows that providing it doesn't put them out of business; it simply allows consumers to make a knowledgeable choice as they do now when they compare two different ice creams - or an ice cream and a frozen yogurt - in a food store.
        Letters threatening legal action by  "concerned consumers, legal action organizations, or even state officials" are being sent out today by "Certified Mail, Receipt Requested" to Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry's, Cold Stone Creamery, Friendly's, Haagen-Dazs, and TCBY. 
        "While the warnings may come too late to affect their operations this summer," says Banzhaf, "the companies cannot assume that they will have a litigation-free summer of 2004 if they continue peddling desserts with unsuspectedly large amounts of artery-clogging fat without any real warning.  Jurors told how at least one chain of ice cream parlors is already providing this information will naturally wonder why all customers are not entitled to the same level of protection.”

COPY OF LETTER FOLLOWS.  For more information, see:  http://cspinet.com/


The enclosed article in the July-August issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, which is published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), discusses the nutrient content of products sold by your and other ice cream chains. The data are based primarily on company data, supplemented by tests conducted by CSPI.

The findings of the article are disturbing, because all but a few products (such as plain sorbets, low-fat ice cream, and frozen yogurts) provide dangerously large amounts of calories and saturated fat, which promote obesity, heart disease, and other serious medical problems in both children and adults.  Some of your larger “snacks” provide upwards of 1,000 calories.  That is more than a healthy meal’s worth of calories, and, together with soft drinks, hamburgers, fries, and a multitude of other high-calorie foods, is a prescription for obesity, especially for young children, since their caloric needs and tolerances are less than those of adults.

Consumers can’t exercise personal responsibility without clear, conveniently available nutrition information - information that is available at the “point of sale” when decisions are made, not buried inconveniently on a web site (to which customers certainly do not have access while waiting in line) or in hard-to-find and hard-to-read brochures or notebooks.  Such information would enable consumers to make informed choices before buying 250-, 500- or even 1,000-calorie items.

Nutrition information is especially important because children make up a disproportionately large percentage of patrons of ice cream parlors and usually lack the knowledge, maturity, and judgment to appreciate the risks of eating foods high in calories and saturated fat.  As you know, children often go to ice cream parlors without adults, either going there by themselves or while a parent is shopping nearby.  Many children are already very concerned about their weight and calories—either because they are already overweight and have been counseled to reduce their caloric intake or, especially in the case of girls, because of generalized concerns about gaining weight.  In both situations, a significant percentage of children likely would be interested in the calorie contents of your offerings and, given readable, accessible information, might choose treats with fewer calories.  Therefore, the moral - and perhaps even legal - obligation to provide complete and accurate nutrition information about your products is all the greater.

Your failure to disclose such obviously material information as unusually large calorie and saturated-fat loads may violate state consumer protection laws and/or your common-law duty to disclose material facts, and may invite law suits from concerned consumers, legal action organizations, or even state officials.  That is especially true when the consumers are children since they are both far less likely to be aware of the health hazards associated with eating fattening foods and more susceptible to their effects.  On the other hand, if information about calories and fat were squarely presented to them, many - including many girls and some boys concerned about weight gain generally, along with overweight children who have been counseled about the importance of limiting calories - will be interested, likelier to make different choices, and, as a result, eat more healthful treats.

As you may recall, three supermarket chains recently were sued for not disclosing that color had been added to farmed salmon; those chains settled and labeling has become a standard practice.  Also, a major fast-food company was sued for failing to reveal a material fact - that its french fries contained beef fat - even though that fact was of concern only to the relatively small percentage of its customers who were Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and vegans.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to list the calorie (and, ideally, saturated fat) content of each item on your menu boards and/or menus.

Baskin-Robbins stores in Canada list the calorie, fat, protein, and carbohydrate content on the glass display case over each tub of frozen dessert (though there’s no similar information for shakes and other products).  That’s exactly the kind of initiative that we hope that your company would undertake in this country.

We would be pleased to discuss this matter with you and look forward to your response.


Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest
1875 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20009

John F. Banzhaf III
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School
2000 H Street NW
Washington, DC  20006