Study: Unprecedented Marketing Of Sugary Drinks To Youth
October 31, 2011

Study: Unprecedented Marketing Of Sugary Drinks To Youth

US children and teenagers are becoming major targets of the soft drink industry, with exposure to more advertising and online marketing than ever before, according to a new study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, according to various media reports.

The study is the most widespread and scientific-based assessment of sugary drink nutrition and marketing ever conducted.

Data from the study shows that soft drink companies are aggressively targeting young people, especially black and Hispanic youth. Researchers are presenting their findings today during the American Public Health Association´s annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Soft drink ads on TV geared toward children and teens have doubled from 2008 to 2010, the report found, with increased marketing from Coca-Cola Co and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc.

On a positive note, children were exposed to 22 percent fewer ads from PepsiCo Inc., the study found.

Black children and teens saw 80 to 90 percent more ads than white children, including double the exposure for the energy drink 5-Hour Energy and Coca-Cola´s vitamin water and Sprite. Hispanic children also saw 49 percent more advertising for sugary and energy drinks on Spanish television, while Hispanic teens saw 99 percent more ads.

“Our children are being assaulted by these drinks that are high in sugar and low in nutrition,” Yale´s Kelly Brownell, co-author of the report, told Reuters. “The companies are marketing them in highly aggressive ways.”

The findings come from syndicated data from The Nielsen Company, comScore, Inc., and Arbitron Inc.  on 14 beverage companies. They examined the nutritional quality of nearly 600 products, including full-calorie soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas. They also examined diet energy drinks and diet children´s fruit drinks.

The Rudd Center also implemented independent studies, content analyses and store audits due to unavailability of some information.

“Beverage companies have pledged to improve child-directed advertising,” said lead researcher Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center, in a recent statement.

“But we are not seeing a true decrease in marketing exposure,” she said. “Instead companies have shifted from traditional media to newer forms that engage youth through rewards for purchasing sugary drinks, community events, cause-related marketing, promotions, product placements, social media, and smartphones.”

Study co-author Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center, said: “The beverage industry needs to clean up their youth-directed products: reduce the added sugar, take out the artificial sweeteners, and stop marketing products high in caffeine and sugar to young people. We also need the nutrition facts, including caffeine content, for all beverages, especially energy drinks.”

“Our results clearly show that the beverage industry´s self-regulatory pledges are not working,” said Brownell. “Children are seeing more, not less marketing, for drinks that increase the risk for serious diseases. If the beverage companies want to be considered public health partners, they need to do better.”

About 15 percent of children are overweight or obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children today are likely to have shorter life spans than their parents, which will affect their ability to work and pay taxes, and potentially drive up healthcare costs.

Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that highly caffeinated energy drinks are not appropriate for children and adolescents, such energy drinks as Red Bull and Amp aggressively market their products toward young people, the report said.

Teens saw an 18 percent increase in TV ads, and heard 46 percent more radio ads in 2010 for energy drinks than adults did.

Brownell said this new report is the first to analyze the data from several firms to measure the complete picture of youth exposure to marketing and advertising. He also said it was crucial to consider the online interaction children have with brands, especially since they are online longer than they watch TV.

For an example, the report found that 21 sugary drink brands had YouTube channels in 2010 with more than 229 million views by June 2011. Coca-Cola is the most popular brand on Facebook, with more than 30 million fans, the study found.

They also found the most-visited soft drink websites were and Capri Sun.

The study also examined drinks themselves. They discovered that the average 8-ounce serving of fruit drink has 110 calories and seven teaspoons of sugar -- the same amount found in an 8-ounce serving of soda or energy drink.

The report was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.


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