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Report: Stop Marketing Sugary Drinks to Kids

< Nov. 02, 2011 > -- Although pediatrics experts don't recommend sodas, energy drinks, or fruit drinks for children, youngsters still consume them, thanks in part to aggressive industry advertising, a new report says.

Photo of young teen girl drinking milk

Just one 8-ounce, full-calorie soda or fruit drink contains more than double the amount of sugar that a child or teen should have for the entire day. And energy drinks also contain caffeine - often equivalent to several cups of coffee.

Researchers from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University found that beverage companies target children across a range of media, from television to text messaging platforms. And the beverage industry takes special aim at black and Hispanic children, who are at higher risk for obesity and related health problems.

Health claims

Not only do beverage makers target children, but they also make health claims, even though their products contain sugar, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine, says Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center.

Many parents think sweetened sports drinks and fruit drinks are good for their children, she says, and "they also believe the nutrient claims about vitamin C and real and natural ingredients, and interpret those as meaning that these products are healthful options."

For their report, which was presented this week at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the researchers looked at the marketing strategies of 14 companies and nearly 600 products. Ads for products appeared on TV, radio, websites, social media, and smartphones, as well as at local retailers and community events.

"One of the things we were surprised to learn is that some of these products marketed to children contain both artificial sweeteners and sugar," Schwartz says.

Changes urged

The report offered these and other suggestions:

  • Instead of sugary drinks, beverage makers should develop and market child-friendly products with less added sugar and no artificial sweeteners.

  • To ensure that consumers know what's in the drinks they buy, the industry should make nutrition and ingredient information easily available. Caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweetener details should be displayed on the front of packages.

  • Beverage makers should stop highlighting nutrition-related claims on the front of packages if they don't similarly disclose information about nutrients (including sugar) that should be limited.

Parents need to be educated that sodas, energy drinks, and fruit drinks aren't healthy for children or teens, says Samantha Heller, R.D., at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn. "They are not healthy for anyone, actually."

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Taking a Hard Line on Soft Drinks

Although your child's diet won't be ruined if he or she drinks soda in modest amounts, it can be hard to stick to that goal. Children often gulp down a 20-ounce bottle, equal to 2.5 servings. It may be easier to cut out sodas - and fruit drinks, sports drinks, and flavored water - altogether than persuade your kids to drink less of them.

Here are other concerns:

  • Sweetened beverages don't satisfy the appetite, so preteens and teens tend to eat a normal amount of food in addition to the calories they take in through sodas and other drinks.

  • Many sodas contain phosphoric acid, which may lead to a loss of calcium. (This is a double whammy, because preteens and teens who drink soda aren't getting the calcium they need from milk.)

  • Nondiet soft drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup. This sweetener may be associated with an increase in metabolic syndrome-a precursor to diabetes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that acceptable beverages for children ages 2 years and older are water, low- or nonfat plain milk, and only small amounts of 100 percent fruit juice.

Check the labels on beverages carefully for amounts of added sugar. Most children shouldn't have more than 15 grams of added sugar day.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - Does Drinking Beverages with Added Sugars Increase the Risk of Overweight?

Sugary Drink Facts - Evaluating Sugary Drink Nutrition and Marketing to Youth

USDA - Empty Calories