The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (full disclosure: I work for them) just released the Sugary Drink Facts Report, exhaustively detailing the nutrition of products offered by the beverage industry, and how the industry markets them.
The authors are very careful to point out that progress has been made since their last sugary drink report from 2011. Indeed, marketing to kids on television and children’s websites has gone down. Sales of sugary beverages are decreasing.
Despite the progress, more improvements are needed. The authors write:
“The overall nutritional content of sugary drinks has not improved, companies continue to target marketing for sugary drinks and energy drinks directly to children and teens, and newer forms of marketing popular with youth have increased.”
The Industry claims that it does not target children, in adherence to its self-regulatory marketing guidelines, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). However, under the CFBAI guidelines, the day a child turns twelve, he or she is fair game for millions of advertising dollars aimed at influencing his or her not-yet developed brain.
That’s right—according to the food industry, a 12-year-old is not a child.
Another report from the Rudd Center released earlier this year showed that food advertised to young people (over $1 billion directly targeted at 12 – to 17-year-olds) is primarily high in calories, sodium, fat and sugar, and nutritionally poor. The report makes clear that all of this advertising directed at young people is having serious, negative effects on their health. Additionally, the authors summarize the scientific literature to conclude that older children remain highly vulnerable to unhealthy food marketing.
The authors cite a number of examples: Research shows that even if adolescents understand something may not be good for them in the long term, executive control and the ability to moderate impulse behavior do not fully develop until adulthood; Adolescents are more susceptible to emotional messages in advertising, and marketers take advantage of this using emotional, rather than rational appeals in advertisements for unhealthy foods; Children ages 10-14 are much more powerfully influenced by peers rather than parents. Marketers hijack this phenomenon by disguising advertisements as messages from friends using social media and viral marketing. The evidence, say the authors, shows we should not be advertising the least healthy foods to this still vulnerable population. Doing so is continuing to have serous long-term health consequences.
In other words, yes, 12-year olds are still children. Beverage industry spokespeople are either naïve, or disingenuous when they claim that they don’t market to kids. The authors of the sugary drinks FACTS report urge the industry to strengthen its standards.