Beverage Companies Market Unhealthy, Sugary Drinks to Children and Teens

New study examines beverage industry marketing practices and nutritional content of nearly 600 products.

Young people are exposed to a substantial amount of marketing for sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks, according to a new report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The new report, Sugary Drink FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score), is the most comprehensive assessment of sugary drink nutrition and marketing ever conducted. It analyzed the marketing practices of 14 major companies and the nutritional content of nearly 600 products.

Despite industry pledges to market fewer unhealthy beverages to children, the report finds there is more—not less—advertising for sugary drinks overall. For example, youths’ exposure to TV ads for full-calorie sodas doubled from 2008 to 2010. Moreover, the report indicates that companies view Black and Hispanic youths as a source of future growth for sugary drink sales. In 2010, Black children and teens saw 80 percent to 90 percent more TV ads for sugary drinks compared with White youths. For Hispanic youths, marketing on Spanish-language TV is growing. From 2008 to 2010, Hispanic children saw 49 percent more ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks, and teens saw 99 percent more ads.

Researchers also found that an 8-ounce serving of a typical fruit drink has 110 calories and 7 teaspoons of sugar—the same amount found in an 8-ounce serving of a full-calorie soda or energy drink. However, nutrition-related claims on fruit drink packages may mislead parents into thinking these beverages are healthier than full-calorie sodas. Overall, sugary drinks are the top source of calories in teens’ diets.

In addition to their findings, researchers offered beverage companies several recommendations, including:

  • develop and market child-friendly products with less added sugar and no artificial sweeteners or colors;
  • make nutrition and ingredient information more easily accessible;
  • disclose beverages’ caffeine content on packages and online;
  • stop targeting teens with marketing for sugary drinks or caffeinated products; and
  • remove nutrition-related claims from high-sugar products.

They also recommended that parents:

  • serve water, low-fat milk or non-fat plain milk for youths ages 2 and older;
  • keep juice portions small: no more than 4 to 6 ounces of 100% juice per day for children ages 1 to 6, and 8 to 12 ounces per day for older children;
  • read the labels of children’s fruit drinks and check for sugar, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors; and
  • contact beverage companies and tell them to change their harmful marketing practices.

The report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.


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