A new report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that, though there has been progress, children and teens are still a key target audience for the advertising of unhealthy beverage options.
Sugary drinks are a large part of the calories in children and teen’s diets and contribute directly to obesity, among other issues. According to the report, a normal 8-ounce kids’ drink is packed with more sugar than a child should consume in one day (a whopping 16 grams) and about 60 calories.
“Despite promises by major beverage companies to be part of the solution in addressing childhood obesity, our report shows that companies continue to market their unhealthy products directly to children and teens,” said Dr. Jennifer Harris, Yale Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives and lead author of the report.
The report analyzed changes in the nutritional content of unhealthy beverages, the marketing tactics of companies who sell those products and the exposure rates of children and teens to unhealthy beverage marketing on TV, the internet and other outlets.
Overall, children and teens are being exposed to less sugary drink marketing on TV and the internet: Children ages 6 to 19 viewed 30 to 39 percent fewer ads, largely because the total sugary drink advertising on websites declined 72 percent. The report also credits major companies with providing calorie information on most packages, as well as improving the availability of nutrition information on their websites.
But despite that progress, some beverage companies aren’t quite making the grade: Preschoolers and children ages 6 to 11 are actually being exposed to 25 to 39 percent more ads for PepsiCo’s sugary drinks, and ads for energy drinks like Red Bull that are targeted at youth are on the rise.
Dr. Harris notes that beverage companies have also “rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor.” For example, companies have been increasingly developing child-friendly mobile apps and games such as Fanta Fruit Slam and Lipton Cool Cubes.
“Industry self-regulation only limits advertising on a fraction of the TV shows and websites that youth see,” explains Dr. Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center.
The authors conclude the report with several recommendations for companies, parents and policy makers. They suggest that companies who market of sugary drinks to children should stop, and make an effort to develop drinks with no artificial sweeteners that are less than 40 calories. Parents should be sure they read labels carefully, even if a label says the drink is healthy. And finally, policy makers should focus their attention on labeling that includes calories, added sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Though there has been significant progress, Dr. Schwartz believes that we still have a long way to go in the fight to reduce unhealthy drink marketing aimed at kids: “Our children deserve to grow up in a culture where they are exposed to messages that promote health, not sugar and caffeine.”