In the most extensive analysis of the marketing of sugary drinks to kids ever conducted, the Rudd Center has uncovered chilling details
Today's children will be the first generation in the history of the country to lead shorter lives than their parents did. There are several contributors to this dim picture, but obesity leads the list.
Many things are being done to help prevent obesity in children and teens. One of the most visible is the effort by cities, states, and even entire countries to wage war on beverages with added sugar. What was once a simple landscape with only a few flagship beverages like Coke, Pepsi, and 7 Up has morphed into entire new categories of drinks with sugar -- sweetened teas, vitamin waters, sports drinks, and energy drinks are examples. Collectively, these beverages are referred to as soda, soft drinks, pop, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sugary drinks -- all terms referring to drinks high in sugar and containing little or no nutrition. In the 1990s, consumption of sugary drinks overtook milk consumption in the U.S., a trend that makes health experts cringe.
There is a long list of reasons why these beverages are bad actors:
- They are the single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet and add little or no nutrition.
- The body does not seem to recognize calories very well when they are delivered in liquids, hence sugary drinks appear to fool the body's feelings of being full.
- There is very clear evidence linking consumption of these beverages with elevated risk for obesity and diabetes.
- There is massive marketing.
The health consequences of consuming sugary drinks are well known. It is not surprising, therefore, that groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other groups have said that consumption is too high and needs to come down.
What has been missing from this picture is a detailed analysis of how the industry markets these products to the most vulnerable segment of our population: children. It is important to know this in order to help establish government policies on whether children should be protected from this influence, and also test whether the industry is holding true to its promises to market less to this age group.
The beverage industry, dominated by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, is represented by a trade association called the American Beverage Association (ABA). The beverage companies have made a number of promises that it will market less to children. Coca-Cola, for example, claims they "...will not place any of [their] brands' marketing in television, radio, and print programming that is primarily directed to children under the age of 12..." Some industry critics believe that the chief aim of such promises is to court public trust and to convince legislators that government intervention is not necessary. Objective information is needed to see whether industry promises are kept and whether, in fact, children are exposed to less marketing of products that may cause harm.