A new report from Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has found that beverage companies are aggressively targeting black and Latino kids with ads to promote sports, fruit and energy drinks. The products that are promoted to kids of color happen to be among the least healthy of the 644 products studied by researchers at the university.
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.
From 2008 to 2010, Latino children saw 49 percent more ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks on Spanish-language TV.
Latino preschoolers saw more Spanish-language ads for Coca-Cola Classic, Kool-Aid, 7 Up, and Sunny D than older Latino children and teens did.
Pepsi and Coca-Cola, the two beverage companies that dominate the industry, have made a number of promises that it will market less to children. Coca-Cola, for example, has previously stated publicly that they wouldn't market ads in TV, radio and print programming aimed at kids under the age of 12.
But the Rudd Center's report found that children have been exposed to more sophisticated ads in recent years. "Companies have shifted from traditional media such as television ads to newer forms that engage youth, often without their parents' awareness, through rewards for purchasing sugary drinks, community events, cause-related marketing, promotions, product placements, social media, and smartphones," Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center wrote at The Atlantic.
Twenty one beverage brands had YouTube channels in 2010, with more than 229 million views by June 2011 -- including 158 million views for the Red Bull channel alone.
Susan K. Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, released a statement defending the industry's marketing practices. Neely also pushed back against allegations that sugary drinks are a key factor in the country's obesity epidemic.
"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," she said.
Neely didn't deny any of the allegations or claims in the report because the facts are readily available on nutritional labels.
Children ages 4 to 8 should consume no more than 15 grams of added sugar per day, according to Choosemyplate.gov and the American Heart Association. The report points out that given the fact that there are at least 15 grams of sugar per serving in two-thirds of the drinks marketed to children, these drinks contribute to excess sugar consumption. Even 6-ounce child-sized drink pouches like Capri Sun Originals have about 14 grams of added sugar--just one gram short of the suggested daily maximum.