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Health & Wellness

Soft drink firms still target kids, report finds

Soft drink makers have kept some of their promises to cut back marketing to kids, but they’re still spending enormous amounts of money selling sugary drinks, a new study finds.

Beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise unhealthy drinks in 2013. That’s four times as much as they spent advertising pure fruit juice and water, the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found.

Justin Sullivan / Today
Some soft drink makers are showing calories-per-serving on the front of packaging.

“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 Jennifer Harris, who led the research team. “They have also rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor.”

Television advertising does appear to be on the wane, Harris’s team told a meeting of the American Public Health Association in New Orleans.

“Children ages 6-11 viewed 39 percent fewer TV ads for sugary drinks in 2013 than in 2010; teens ages 12-19 viewed 30 percent fewer ads,” the center said in a statement.

“Sugary drink advertising on websites primarily visited by youth declined by 72 percent.”

And despite promises from companies to cut back on calories, the researchers found a typical eight-ounce children’s drink contains 60 calories and 16 grams of sugar. That’s more sugar than most children are supposed to have in an entire day.

Advertising strongly influences what kids eat and drink, experts say, and junk food ads contribute to the rise in childhood obesity. 

In 2006, kids were seeing 40,000 TV ads a year.

A third of children’s drinks contain artificial sweeteners, and it takes a careful look at the label to find them listed, the Yale team found.

The researchers gave a shout-out to some companies. “Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and PepsiCo now provide calories-per-serving on the front of most packages, and they enhanced nutrition information on their websites,” they said. 

But some of the companies also increased advertising. “Preschoolers saw 39 percent more ads for PepsiCo’s sugary drinks in 2013 than in 2010; children aged 6 to 11 saw 25 percent more,” they said. “Red Bull increased TV advertising to youth by 59 percent.”

A full third of ads for sugar-sweetened drinks that are viewed by teens promote energy drinks. A recent study just found that caffeinated energy drinks can harm kids

When it comes to social media, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Pepsi topped other drinks in terms of Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and YouTube views. Monster Energy and Rockstar, both energy drink brands, were among the most active brands on social media.

“Industry self-regulation only limits advertising on a fraction of the TV shows and websites that youth see, and classifies children as adults the day they turn 12 years old,” said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center. “Our children deserve to grow up in a culture where they are exposed to messages that promote health, not sugar and caffeine.” 

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