Black and Latino Kids Targeted with ‘Massive Amount of Marketing’ By Soda Companies

According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, soda companies are aggressively targeting African-American and Latino children, toddlers and teens alike, with their ads for sports, fruit and energy drinks. And to make matters even more insulting and alarming, reports that the products that are promoted to kids of color are among the least healthy of the products studied by the university researchers.

The Yale study found that despite promises from the industry to curb marketing to youth,  young folks are exposed to “a massive amount” of marketing for sugary drinks. This study,  the most comprehensive and science-based assessment of sugary drink nutrition and marketing ever conducted,  indicates that manufacturers are employing more sophisticated marketing, by incorporating social media, and smart phones, rewards for purchasing sugary drinks, community events and cause-related marketing. So that kids are being appealed to in ways that escape the awareness of their parents.

All parents should care about the nutritional implications of this marketing onslaught. The study looked at 14 different beverage companies and examined the nutritional quality of close to 600 products.”  The products examined included full-calorie soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas, as well as diet energy drinks and diet children’s fruit drinks.  In addition to using misleading labeling and sugar contents that are through the roof, some other key findings point out that:

  • Even though pediatricians warn against highly caffeinated energy drinks for children and teens, the companies clearly target teens for these drinks.
  • 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.
  • Since companies are not legally required to list caffeine content on product packaging, parents have no concrete way to monitor their children’s intake.

For parents of color, we ought to be doubly alarmed because these beverage companies are gunning for our kids…and they are not even subtle. Just look at the numbers. The reports:

  • 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, Hispanic children saw 49 percent more ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks on Spanish-language TV, and Hispanic teens saw 99 percent more ads.
  • Hispanic preschoolers saw more Spanish-language ads for Coca-Cola Classic, Kool-Aid, 7 Up, and Sunny D than Hispanic older children and teens did.

Am I the only one who is angered and insulted by this decision to target our kids, when the African-American community is already struggling with significantly greater health and healthcare challenges? This is a personal affront to me as a parent because the beverage industry’s targeted attack is saying several things about me and my community. They are implying:

  1. That I am silly enough to think that just because they say something is “all-natural” or contains “real ingredients,” I’m supposed to run out and buy it for my kids even though it is still full of sugar and totally devoid of nutrients;
  2. Even if they don’t assume that I am silly, they are assuming that I, as a parent, am not paying attention. We might all be busy but we are not all absentee; and
  3. Their defensive responses, as reflected in Susan K. Neely’s, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, statement shows that they are not willing to take responsibility for their products’ detrimental impacts nor their inappropriateness for youth. Neely’s statement, in part, says:

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.

I am so tired of big business portraying watch-dog organizations who seek truth and who pursue better protections and safeguards for families as lunatic fringe people with no creditability. There is nothing complicated about the sugar content of their drinks and the health problems they significantly exacerbate.

We parents really need to step up and call an end to the media manipulation of our kids and ourselves. Even if you have your own love affair with sugar and/or caffeine, surely you can appreciate that apathy with regard to the quality of your child’s diet is literally a killer! Beverage companies need to stop their shameful marketing onslaught of communities of color, who they perceive as an easy and less informed market. But we parents have to step up; take a strong stand for the protection of our children and vote with our dollars.

You ought to know:

  • Electrolyte replenishment is only needed after extended (over an hour) and exhaustive exertion. Most of our kids are not running marathons. Orange juice is just as good after most kid’s sports activity—soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. It has more than adequate, if not better (certainly more potassium), electrolyte replacement than the commercial sports drinks like Gatorade. OJ provides additional nutrition and not all of the sugar and additives that sports drink have. We need to stop associating Gatorade with athletic achievement. That’s all marketing. Help your kids see through the hype. See through the hype yourself!
  • Have you looked at what’s in that Capri Sun drink that you are packing in your child’s lunch? Capri Suns are not juice. As points out, Capri Suns’ little 6-ounce child-sized drink pouch contains about 14 grams of added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends children aged 4 to 8 consume no more than 15 grams of added sugar per day. So that little packet of liquid that is rarely ever enough to quench even a small kid’s thirst provides nearly a full day’s sugar allotment. Good Grief!
  • Energy drinks are popular and have become a part of a pop culture that teens connect with. But no matter how much the beverage industry tries to convince you that caffeine is safe for everybody, the unregulated use of energy drinks (with their high concentrations of caffeine) are not healthy for teens. Just ask the poison control centers, who have seen a tripling of calls related to energy drink consumption and caffeine poisoning.
  • If you are not aware of all the forms of sugar in drinks—sucrose, glucose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, etc- you may think you are choosing a health drink when you are consuming something far from healthy. Be informed so that when you pick a drink, you know what you are getting and what you aren’t. (Go here for the truth about Vitamin Water and here to learn more about high fructose corn syrup)

My family is already trying to cut down the sugar consumption in our household. This is a struggle because each of us has a serious sweet tooth. We love candy. We LOVE chocolate. And don’t even get me started about ice cream. The thing about sugar is I want to choose how I will consume it. I refuse to  passively consume my allotment of sugar unknowingly, like in a fruit drink, when I would prefer to eat a dove chocolate bite or a scoop of ice cream. We are trying to be deliberate about how we cut back and from where our sugar comes. But we are also very clear about the evils of sugar and how it contributes to all kinds of ills. Not just obesity, but inflammation disorders, poor complexion, and let’s not forget cavities.

So  now, in light of this study, my effort to curb sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks has taken on a whole new meaning. We’re going to stick mostly with water. And when we want something sweet, we’ll go with 100% juice. I am no longer handing my money over to companies who treat me like a stupid consumer who can’t make a half-way intelligent decision about own my family’s health!


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