Soft Drink Foxes in the Children’s Health Henhouse

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 American Beverage Association (ABA) reacted strongly. On Just Drinks, an industry site, ABA President and CEO Susan Neely said:

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.

Related Care2 Stories

Los Angeles School District: Brought to You by Corporate Sponsors

Marketing Junk Food to Kids Is Evil

Marketing Junk Food to Our Kids: Can We Beat It?

First photo from volto via stock.xchng; second photo from Peter G Trimming via Flickr Creative Commons; third photo from liberalmind1012 via Flickr Creative Commons


Carol Cowbrough
Carol C7 years ago

Noted. Thank you.

Ruby W.
Ruby W7 years ago

Sodapop, along with other sources of corn syrup, is responsible for obesity in most people affected. Get someone who drinks it every day to stop altogether. They'll drop 20 or 30 pounds in less than four months. I guarantee it.

Holy Lawrence
Holly Lawrence7 years ago

Thanks Much for this article!

Kristen S.
Kristen H7 years ago

Love the spin doctor's claims (whining) that health "nuts" are out there trying to blame "one product" for obesity... like we don't know that they're all part of global conglomerates who just care about one thing, money, at the cost of everything else.

Rebecca Smith
Rebecca Smith7 years ago

I agree that more regulation of marketing to children/teens is needed, as well as changing the attitudes and what is offered at home.

Kath R.
Kath P7 years ago

Time to start looking towards the future and not just the moment at hand.

Duane B.
.7 years ago

Growing up my parents limited me to one sugary drink per day ... something that has stuck with me my entire life. I agree with some of the others that the primary responsibility here is with parents to teach their children what is appropriate and healthy. That being said, it would still be nice to have companies that were more ethical in their marketing efforts, but that probably isn't to be expected in our "bottom line" corporate evaluation system.

Holy Lawrence
Holly Lawrence7 years ago

Soda machines do need toleave schools - but they are a money-maker and we all know what that means! Like any good measure ... it must start at home ..

Chris J.
Chris J7 years ago

I wish high schools would get the soda machines out of school. There is no ability at all to monitor soda intake when they've got it right in a place where parents have zero control.

Marguerite White
Marguerite White7 years ago

continued;stopping drinking these drinks its either up to parents or manufacturers have to change there ingredients,or this is a daft suggestion but over 15 label on these drinks like booze.But think they will find ways to still get it,when something is introduce its more harder to change it back to how it was,bad seems to catch on more than good unless there is enough incentive,my grandson doesnt like eating food much unless someone bribes him with sweets after he has eaten.I dont agree with that really but when I was a child someone always use to say there are starving kids in africa who would like that, all you have probably heard that one.Well most kids wouldnt listen to that one or as I have said to my grandson to be healthy and strong you have to eat something,you havent eaten much?Well I think I dont understand myself as kids always loved food that I have known before but seems now they like all the wrong stuff and its probably who they are mixing or growing up with,what can I say something has got to change or give somewhere,I foresee that 10 yrs time they will probably say that teenagers were to obese or maybe anorexic or getting ill to easy,alright its like that now.But whatever guidelines the government enforces it nearly always goes the other way,like healthy eating in school went back to having chips and burgers.What can I say...