Study Targets Sugary Drinks, Marketing Tactics

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—A new report from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity reveals makers of sugary drinks, such as full-calorie soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks, are targeting America’s youth, particularly black and Hispanic kids, through aggressive marketing campaigns.

The report, “Evaluating Sugary Drink Nutrition and Marketing to Youth,” reveals despite pledges to improve their marketing practices to children and adolescents, the beverage makers still use tactics, such as rewards for buying sugary drinks, community events, cause-related marketing, promotions and product placement in social media.

“Beverage companies have pledged to improve child-directed advertising,” said lead researcher Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, 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.”

Researchers examined marketing tactics 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. Together the products comprise 91% of sugary drink and energy drink product sales. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and Kraft Foods produced two-thirds of the products in the analysis.

They found an 8-ounce serving of a full-calorie, non-diet fruit drink has on average 110 calories and 7 teaspoons of sugar—equal to the amount that is found in an 8-ounce serving of sugary soda or energy drink. Full-calorie iced teas, sports drinks, and flavored waters typically contain 3 to 5 teaspoons of sugar per 8-ounce serving.

They also found more than half of sugary drinks and energy drinks market positive ingredients on their packages, and 64% feature their “all-natural” or “real” ingredients. For example, Cherry 7 Up Antioxidant highlights it is “low sodium,” and labels on Kool-Aid powders promote that they have “25% fewer calories than the leading beverage.”

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