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Sweetened Beverages: The Marketing of Sugar

Close-up of a human hand holding a straw in a glass of cola

With childhood obesity on the rise, ads for highly sweetened beverages are targeting youth in an increasingly aggressive manner, contributing to an already serious health issue.

A new study examines the exposure of children and teens to sweetened beverage ads and finds that in a two-year span, such exposure has doubled. The same study also found that fruit juices and energy drinks, targeted at the same demographic, pack as much sugar into bottles as do sodas and other similarly sweetened beverages.

Given the increase in obesity among the youth of America, these statistics are alarming. One-fifth of our children are considered obese, and a significant portion are defined as overweight. Much of this has to do with diet, be it sugared cereals, fast food, or the increased intake in sugared beverages.

The new report, by Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, held insight into the targeting of these ads, much of which was aimed at black and Hispanic youth. Black children and teens saw 80 to 90 percent more ads than white children, including twice as many for 5-Hour Energy drink and Coca-Colas Vitamin Water and Sprite. Hispanic children saw 49 percent more that white children, due to targeted ads on Spanish language channels.

The ads are being broadcast on both television and radio, and some online channels such as YouTube and Facebook, which are popular with this demographic.

Our children are being assaulted by these drinks that are high in sugar and low in nutrition, said Yales Kelly Brownell, co-author of the report. The companies are marketing them in highly aggressive ways.

To highlight the report, the Center developed SugaryDrinkFacts.org, a website that contains information parents need to know, as well as the full report. Their home page opens to the harsh statement: Sugary drink companies speak to children early, often, and when parents are not looking. Sugary drinks are the most unhealthy food product marketed to children and are relentlessly and aggressively targeted toward them. Food marketing to children negatively influences the dietary choices and the health of societys most vulnerable citizens.

Last year, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a study that showed that cereals marketed to our children have 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium, not to mention the additional unnecessary calories that they add to the breakfast bowl.

It is incumbent on every parent to monitor access to the venues where the ads appear, as well as provide a healthy diet for their children. The alarming rise in childhood obesity is leading to a generation of children who will likely have a shorter lifespan that their parents, a reverse in a trend over past century.

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