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Sweetened Drink Marketers Seek Kids as Targets

If your kids reach for sweetened drinks instead of water – regardless of your endless entreaties to the contrary – it’s not necessarily their fault (or yours).

Young people are being exposed to a massive amount of marketing for sugary drinks, from full-calorie soda, sports and energy drinks to fruit drinks, according to a new study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Data from the study, a comprehensive and science-based assessment of sugary drink nutrition and marketing, show that companies marketing sugary drinks target young people, especially black and Hispanic youth.

The report’s authors studied marketing by 14 beverage companies and examined the nutritional quality of nearly 600 products including full-calorie soda, energy and fruit drinks, flavored and 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,” says 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."

Some of the study’s findings include:

• Many fruit and energy drinks have as much added sugar and calories as full-calorie soda.

• An eight-ounce serving of a full-calorie fruit drink has 110 calories and 7seven teaspoons of sugar – the same amount found in an eight-ounce serving of a full-calorie soda or energy drink.

• Children ages four to eight should consume no more than 15 grams of added sugar per day, according to Choosemyplate.gov and the American Heart Association . Given that there are at least 15 grams of sugar per serving in two-thirds of the drinks marketed to children, these drinks contribute to excess sugar consumption. Even 6-ounce child-sized drink pouches like Capri Sun Originals have about 14 grams of added sugar.

• Forty percent of children’s fruit drinks contain artificial sweeteners.

• More than half of sugary and energy drinks display nutrient-related claims on their packages, and 64 percent feature their “all-natural” or “real” ingredients. For example, Cherry 7 Up Antioxidant advertises the fact it is “low sodium,” and labels on Kool-Aid powders promote that they have “25 percent fewer calories than the leading beverage.”

• Energy drinks are inappropriate for children and teens, yet they are heavily marketed to them:

• The American Academy of Pediatrics says that highly caffeinated energy drinks “have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” Despite this medical advice, the study says companies clearly target teens.

• In 2010, teens saw 18 percent more TV ads and heard 46 percent more radio ads for energy drinks than adults did. Teens also saw 20 percent more TV ads for energy drinks in 2010 than they saw in 2008.

• Parents have no way to monitor caffeine in drinks because caffeine content is not required – and is often not listed – on product packages.

“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.”

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