The soft drink foxes are in the children’s health henhouse, and they are attacking the chicks.
Back in 2006, the top food and beverage companies agreed to some voluntary marketing guidelines after the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Food Marketed to Children pointed out they were not playing fair with their advertising. Making high consumption of salt, sugar, and fats attractive to the 2-to-17 group was obviously working too well, and children’s health was at risk.
The food and beverage companies denied culpability, but they volunteered to encourage healthier choices through their own Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
Becoming Smarter about Alternative Marketing
Fast forward to 2011. A new report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity shows how difficult it is to retrain foxes, though it is easy to persuade them to be more clever about their feeding habits. Lead researcher Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center, sums up the problem:
Beverage companies have pledged to improve child-directed advertising. 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.
Clever of those foxes to switch to alternative forms of marketing. They gain more direct exposure at a lower per-unit cost.
This Is How Industry Foxes Show Concern
An example of just how much the industry foxes care for the welfare of the chicks is energy drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises,”Stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.” The Rudd report points out,”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.”
Full-calorie soda ads are another example. Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group were the primary movers behind a doubling of children’s exposure to sugary drinks ads on TV.
An exception was PepsiCo. During that same period of time, 2008 to 2010, the company exposed children to 22 percent fewer ads. That gives them bragging rights, but they still spend significant dollars marketing unhealthy drinks to children and teens.
A major area for marketing expansion was black and Hispanic youth. The study found that “Black children and teens saw 80 percent to 90 percent more ads compared with white youth, including more than twice as many for Sprite, 5-hour Energy, and Vitamin Water.”
Foxes Respond to Report
The people at our member companies – many of whom are parents themselves – are delivering on their commitment to advertise only water, juice and milk on programming for children under 12. Recent research supports that there has been a dramatic change in food and beverage advertising during children’s programming, with advertisements for soft drinks decreasing by 96% between 2004 and 2010 alone.
Reuters quoted her further as saying,
This report is another attack by known critics in an ongoing attempt to single out one product as the cause of obesity when both common sense and widely accepted science have shown that the reality is far more complicated.
More complicated indeed. The research Neely cites was sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Association of National Advertisers. Their survey neatly sidesteps the issue of shifting marketing dollars to other forms of advertising.
What Is a Hen To Do?
Regulating marketing to children has not been permitted since 1980, when Congress stripped the Federal Trade Commission of that power. Manufacturers are continuing to put profit above children’s health. So parents and the agencies that serve youth will have to take the lead.
Help comes from the Rudd Center for Policy & Obesity. Their Sugary Drink FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score) offers nutrition tools to help parents analyze the nutrient content of their child’s favorite sugary drink. They also help parents identify marketing campaigns, not just in standard media outlets but on Web sites, social media and cause marketing. The resources can also help teachers and youth leaders assist children to understand how companies mount successful marketing campaigns.
Understanding industry tactics will not keep the foxes out of the henhouse, but it will make the chicks and their parents more canny about resisting the seduction of an industry that puts profits over children’s health.
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