Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director of the World Food Policy Center, Professor of Public Policy, and Former Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids share insights about why sugary-drink marketing is so dangerous and what we can learn from its historical ties to the tobacco industry.
“Kids are so important to beverage companies because brand loyalty starts early and lasts a long time. And if these kids are off onto a lifetime of consuming these sugar beverages and they prefer my brand over yours or yours over mine, that’s how these companies cash in.”
How Are Companies Marketing Sugary Drinks?
On average, kids in the United States will see dozens of advertisements every single day, many for sugary drinks and junk food. And children are being exposed to more ads for sugary drinks than ever before, a growing concern because sugary drinks are the single largest source of calories in children’s diets—providing nearly half of kids’ added sugar intake.
Beverage companies spend nearly twice as much on ads for sugary drinks as they do on ads for unsweetened or diet beverages and they target Black and Hispanic youth.
Beverage companies spent $1 billion in ads in 2018, disproportionately targeting Black and Hispanic youth.
Black children saw 2.1 times as many sugary drink ads compared to white children in 2018.
Beverage companies spent $84 million in ads on Spanish-language TV for soda, sports drinks and energy drinks in 2018—up 80% since 2010.
These ads and the billions of dollars behind them are part of a strategic marketing campaign by the food and beverage industry to get kids hooked on their products.
Their tactics come straight from the tobacco playbook–and kids of color are most frequently targeted. This is especially concerning because sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions that disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic children.
Parallels Between Beverage and Tobacco Industries’ Marketing Practices
They Spend Money to Influence Consumers
The connections between the tobacco and food industries go back decades. Until recently, many of these companies, including well-known brands such as Kool-Aid and Marlboro cigarettes, were one and the same, managed under umbrella corporations such as RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris.
“The marketing tactics beverage companies use are identical to what the tobacco industry did, which is to create an imagery for their products that makes them cool to young people. Their ads have very little to do with the product itself, because there’s very little good to be said about the product in that way.”
And to this day, both industries continue to employ the same unfair practices—tactics that may seem benevolent but, in fact, disguise strategic advertising techniques aimed at specific populations. For example: funding projects such as playgrounds in communities of color or sponsoring Black and Hispanic celebrities and sports figures.
They Make Sure Kids Have Easy Access
In some cases, that involves the beverage industry infiltrating spaces where kids congregate—placing products and ads everywhere from schools and playgrounds to recreational fields and professional sports arenas.
With infiltration, kids get ongoing, consistent exposure and easy access to a company’s products. That means increased sales for beverage companies and the cultivation of brand loyalty from an early age.
Are Their Tactics Working?
Nearly two-thirds (61%) of U.S. children and youth consume sugary drinks each day; among children ages 2 to 4, nearly half (46%) do. Black and Latinx children consume more sugary drinks than white or Asian children do.
And the latest national data from 2017-2018 show 19.3% of children ages 2 to 19 have obesity, with rates disproportionately higher among Black, Hispanic, and Mexican American youth.
As the pandemic and its related economic consequences continue, experts believe kids’ risk for obesity may be increasing due to limited access to healthy food, fewer places or chances to be physically active, and families facing financial challenges. Increased risk for obesity, may increase risk for harmful outcomes from the COVID-19 virus. This is especially concerning among kids of color, who have higher rates of obesity and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Learn more about how sugary drinks harm kids’ health and policy efforts to address the problem.
Stories and Expert Perspectives
Hear from experts about policies and programs that are impacting children’s health, read interviews with researchers about data releases, and learn how some communities are taking action to help more children grow up healthy.