Our Pledge To You


New report looks at kids and sugary drinks

Red Bull has upped its TV advertising to youth by 59 percent, a new study shows.  |    PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images

There’s good news, but still a not-so-healthy dose of bad in a report being released today (Nov. 19) that looks at the marketing of sugary drinks to children and teens.

I look at it and think the beverage companies are finding some ways around the the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), which was launched in 2006. It regulates advertising in TV and other media where children 11 and under make up 35 percent or more of the audience. The initiative is supposed to be the voluntary self-regulation by the industry.

Sugary Drink Facts 2014 is being released by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in New Orleans. The study looked at the TOTAL exposure to TV ads (not just those regulated by CFBAI). That’s good; kids watch more than what’s considered kiddie TV.

The study also looked at other forms of marketing, including that found on the Internet and through social media, which have a huge presence in the lives of young people. And, it examines the nutritional values of more than 900 different drinks. The Rudd Center’s first study was done in 2010 so figures from that one are used as comparison.

Like I said, the study confirms there has been some progress.  Children 6-11 saw 39 percent fewer TV ads promoting sugary drinks in 2013 than in 2010; teens 12-19 viewed 30 percent less. The ads for sugary drinks on websites where the primary audience is young people went down by 72 percent. Some companies made nutritional information more accessible, according to the report.

Sounds good so far.

Ah, but wait. Not all companies are getting gold stars. Preschoolers say 39 percent more of PepsiCo’s ads for its sugary drinks and children 6 to 11 were subjected to 25 percent more in 2013 than in 2010, Sugary Facts discovered.

It’s not just soda that’s laden with sugar and contributing to the expanding waistlines of our children. The study also looked at energy drinks. Of the sugary drinks kids are seeing, the study found one out of three viewed by teens and one out of four by preschoolers and children are for energy drinksm the report shows. Red Bull has upped its TV advertising to youth by a whopping 59 percent.

(Right now I must digress: no kid ever needs an energy drink! If parents are thinking, oh they aren’t carbonated; they’re smaller, maybe they’re better, the answer is a big fat NO! Get that junk away from your kids, parents.)

Here’s where I think the report shows (my words) beverage companies have found a way around that pesky limiting of TV ads. Looks like they’ve moved on to social media to draw in a new, and younger, audience for their products.

Beverage companies “have also rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are so popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor,” Jennifer Harris, the lead author of the report, said in a released statement.

They’re on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and kids are seeing their ads. Coca-Cola, Red Bull and Pepsi are the top three drink brands flooding social media, according to the report.

Oh, and those-kid friendly apps posing as games but really plugging a product? They’re everywhere too, the report shows. Oh gee, and they sound so sweet and innocent, with cool names like Fanta Fun Trap. (Yeah, it’s a trap alright, to make you want to become a loyal, lifetime customer. But I digress again.)

Also troubling is that the beverage companies, according to the report, are targeting black and Latino young people. The report found black children and teens saw twice as many sugary drink ads as white children.

Ads for sugary drinks and energy shots have increased by 44 percent on Spanish-language TV, the report says. So that means Latinos, who have a higher likelihood of developing diabetes, are been pitched like crazy sugary drinks. Ugh.

The report recommends that companies stop marketing sugary and energy drinks to kids and teens. It also suggests developing children’s drinks with less than 40 calories and no artificial sweeteners. That’s a start.

But I’d add that this self-regulating by the industry might not be working out so well and might need a second, more thoughtful, look.

NOTE: Story updated to change age from 12 to 11 in second paragraph.