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Issue Brief

Sugary Drink Marketing Targets Youth at Greatest Risk for Obesity

New report finds companies spent $1 billion on advertising in 2018

Food marketing to children


June 23rd, 2020


We’ve all seen the ads on TV, in magazines, on billboards and in our social media feeds—the ones with the icy glass of sugary soda on a hot summer afternoon or the one telling you that all you need to hike that mountain or even get through your work day is an invigorating energy drink.

Those ads are just part of the more than $1 billion in advertising spent by beverage companies in 2018—much of it targeted at black and Hispanic youth, who are already disproportionately affected by obesity and diet-related diseases. Sugary drinks—like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened coffees and teas—are a major contributor to long-term health problems—from cardiovascular disease, to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental decay. Beverage companies have pledged to take action to reduce the number of calories people consume, but their advertising spending tells a far different story.

A new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, Sugary Drinks FACTS 2020, finds that advertising for sugary drinks and energy drinks has increased by 26% since 2013, reaching $1.04 billion in 2018. Teens, preschoolers and children remain some of beverage companies’ primary audiences, and were exposed to more ads for sugary drinks in 2018 than ever before.

But most concerning is the continued extensive targeted advertising directed to black and Hispanic youth—which we already know contributes to health disparities affecting communities of color. Among the findings:

  • In 2018, companies spent $84 million to advertise regular soda, sports drinks and energy drinks on Spanish-language TV, an increase of 8% since 2013 and 80% since 2010.
  • Sports drink brands disproportionately advertised on Spanish-language TV, dedicating 21% of their TV advertising budgets to Spanish-language TV, compared to 10% on average for all sugary drinks.
  • Compared to white children and teens, black children saw 2.1 times as many sugary drink ads and black teens saw 2.3 times as many. Black youth exposure was particularly high for sports drinks, regular soda and energy drinks.

Food Marketing to Children
Children in the United States are inundated with food and beverage ads. After seeing ads for unhealthy foods and beverages, kids are more likely to choose those products. Food and beverage companies disproportionately target communities of color with their advertising, contributing to African American and Hispanic youth consuming more sugary drinks and having higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, on average, compared to their white peers.

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