Young people are being exposed to a massive amount of marketing for sugary drinks, such as full-calorie soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks, according to a new study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The study is the most comprehensive and science-based assessment of sugary drink nutrition and marketing ever conducted. The data show that companies marketing sugary drinks target young people, especially African American and Latino youth. Researchers from the Rudd Center presented detailed findings of the study on October 31 during the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
The report’s authors studied marketing by 14 beverage companies and examined the nutritional quality of nearly 600 products including full-calorie soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas, as well as diet energy drinks and diet children’s fruit drinks.
“Beverage companies have pledged to improve child-directed advertising,” said lead researcher Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center. “But we are not seeing a true decrease in marketing exposure. 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."
Key study findings include:
Companies are targeting African American and Latino children and teens:
Many fruit drinks and energy drinks have as much added sugar and calories as full-calorie soda:
Energy drinks are inappropriate for children and teens, yet they are heavily marketed to them:
Despite industry promises to stop marketing unhealthy beverages to children:
Marlene Schwartz, co-author and 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,” concluded co-author Kelly Brownell, director and co-founder of the Rudd Center. “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.”
Researchers measured youth exposure to marketing and advertising messages from all beverage companies by using syndicated data from The Nielsen Company, comScore, Inc., and Arbitron Inc. When this information was unavailable, independent studies were implemented, along with content analyses and audits inside stores.
The report was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.
The full report and tools for consumers and researchers are available at www.sugarydrinkfacts.org. Follow the conversation on Twitter #sugarydrinkfacts.