May 22, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Soft Drink Firms Still Target Kids, Report Finds

Nov 21, 2014 08:52 PM EST

With cases of obesity, and health issues related to obesity, on the rise in recent years, government officials have been far more keen on controlling the level of influence that unhealthy food and beverages have, especially in children's diet. And in spite of  diet and uncaffinated alternatives, soft drinks remain amongst the unhealthiest beverages around, due to their high sugar content.

Despite promises made by soft drinks companies to cut back on advertisements of their beverages, a new study discovers that these companies are still spending enormous amounts of money marketing sugary drinks. And the study made another important find, revealing that U.S. youths still remain the target of all advertisements for sugary, carbonated drinks.

The study ,which was conducted by researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, says that beverage companies have spent $866 million advertising unhealthy drinks in 2013, which was four times as much as they spent advertising pure fruit juice and water.

"Despite promises by major beverage companies to be part of the solution in addressing childhood obesity, our report shows that companies continue to market their unhealthy products directly to children and teens," lead researcher of the study, Jennifer Harris says. "They have also rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor."

According to reports, teens are seeing fewer TV commercials for sugary drinks, but they remain a prime target for marketers through product placement, social media and other means.

While the number of ads found on websites mostly visited by children declined during the period, around 6-to-11-year-olds viewed 39 percent fewer television ads for sugary drinks in 2013 than in 2010. Teens saw a 30 percent drop.

 "Sugary drink advertising on websites primarily visited by youth declined by 72 percent."

The number of ads found on websites mostly visited by children also declined during the period, according to the report.

The report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which was based on Nielsen data on advertising exposure from 2013.

However, Yale researchers said beverage companies continued to reach young people through sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as mobile apps, and much of that marketing promoted unhealthy products.

In 2006, kids were seeing 40,000 TV ads a year. 

"They're trying to talk about offering healthier choices and lower sugar products," Harris, said.  "But if they keep marketing their high-sugar products to children and teens, they can't say they are being a part of the solution."

Under a voluntary program called the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, major soda companies agreed not advertise beverages other than juice, water or milk-based drinks to any audience comprised predominantly of children under 12.

According to Reuters, the Yale report examined total advertising, not just that for children's programming. Researchers found that with some brands, children's exposure to unhealthy drinks had increased since 2010.

Though in rebuttal to the study's claims, the American Beverage Association, an industry trade group, says that the authors of the Yale report did "not adequately differentiate between marketing to children, who are widely viewed as a special audience needing particular care, and marketing to teens and general audiences."

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