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Frequently Asked Questions

What is this research about?
This is a comprehensive study of the nutrition and marketing of sugary drinks to children and teens. This report presents the nutrient quality of sugary drinks, evaluates the products marketed to children, quantifies young people's exposure to sugary drink marketing, and describes the various marketing practices used to reach children and their parents. The data collected for this report was from all of 2010 and the first six months of 2011.

Why are you only concerned with marketing to children?
Due to their earlier state in cognitive development, children are more vulnerable to the influence of marketing. Children have a more difficult time than adults distinguishing between entertainment and marketing content on television. In addition, lifelong taste preferences and brand loyalties are being established in childhood. Hence, foods and beverages marketed to children should be held to a higher standard.

Why sugary drinks?
Sugary drinks play a large role in the diets of young people. Sugary drinks are the most unhealthy food product marketed to children and are relentlessly and aggressively targeted toward them. Few beverages meet healthy nutrition standards and there is concern about the impact of sugary consumption on young people's overall nutrition and health. Food and beverage companies spent more to market sugary drinks to children and adolescents than they spent marketing any other food or beverage category to that group.

How did you choose the 14 companies that are included in the analysis?
The Rudd Center analyzed nearly 600 products from 14 companies that contain added sugar - full-calorie soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas. In addition, researchers assessed diet energy drinks and diet children's fruit drinks. Together these products comprise 91 percent of sugary drink and energy drink product sales. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and Kraft Foods produced two-thirds of the products in the analysis.

How did you assess all the ways that companies market to children?
We analyzed youth exposure and conducted content analyses of television advertisements, sugary drink websites, sugary drink advertisements on other websites, social and viral media, radio advertising, and mobile marketing applications.

We utilized syndicated data when available, including data from Nielsen, comScore, Arbitron, and Symphony IRI, and implemented studies to quantify the extent of these marketing practices. In addition, we conducted content analyses of the different forms of marketing to assess target audiences, messages, and techniques presented in the advertisements. The methods are described in full detail in the report.

Does this study assess sugary drinks on nutrition or marketing?
Both. This research assesses the nutritional quality of sugary drinks and documents the exposure and content of sugary drink advertising to children.

Isn't it obvious that sugary drink companies market to children? Why is this news?
For the first time, data from numerous sources, including exposure data from syndicated media research companies, content analyses, validated nutrition profiles, observed marketing practices, and data on sugary drink purchases have been brought together into a usable format for parents, researchers, and advocates. These are the same data sources used by the beverage industry and advertising agencies in their own research on marketing. The Sugary Drink FACTS report allows the public to see all of the ways companies are marketing to children and learn more about specific sugary drinks.

Aren't fruit drinks healthy (or at least healthier than regular soda)?
Fruit drinks often contain nearly as many calories as soda and 10% or less juice, meaning that most of the sugar they contain is added sugar. Even smaller products contain excessive added sugar: just one 6-ounce Capri Sun pouch provides 107% of the added sugar a 4-year-old should have in a whole day. Many fruit drinks, including child fruit drinks such as Kool-Aid Jammers, are just as calorie dense as regular soda. A 6.8-ounce Kool-Aid Jammers drink contains more sugar than the same amount of Coca-Cola Classic.

Don't kids need Gatorade or Powerade after sports practices and games?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that there is no need for children to consume sports drinks for physical activity. Water provides excellent hydration and necessary nutrients, even for active children, and a balanced diet provides all the vitamins and minerals a child needs. Professional athletes can benefit from the extra electrolytes and sugar, but there is no reason for kids to drink them unless specifically recommended by a health professional.

Is caffeine really that bad?
Caffeine is an unnecessary stimulant in the diets of all children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that people under 18 never have any at all. On average, regular soda has 32 milligrams and energy drinks have 80 milligrams. Any amount is too much but the high levels in energy drinks are especially worrisome. No caffeine at all is best for children and youth.

Is the drink healthier if it contains natural or real ingredients?
The terms "natural" and "real" are not regulated by the FDA and are overused for many ingredients, naturally-occurring or not. Although fruit drinks and other drinks often contain labels advertising the vitamins and minerals in the drinks and describing "natural" and "real" ingredients, remember that not one of these sugary drinks occurs in nature and most contain ingredients that are manufactured in a lab.

What about all the positive steps these companies are taking, such as introducing "better for you" products and donating money to noble causes in the community?
The introduction of "better for you" products and donations to causes do much more for the company than for the consumer or recipients of charitable giving. Our research shows that while companies get credit for making "better for you" products, exposure to sugary drinks and energy drinks is going up for children and teens. We must remember that companies are out for a profit, and at the end of the day it's the bottom line that they care about most, not our children or communities. When companies like Coca-Cola donate money to special causes they do so because they want their brand associated with something good, which increases positive public perception about the brand and often results in increased sales. Soda companies, for example, spend millions donating to the cause to end childhood obesity (in itself a contradiction) but they will spend millions more than that bragging about it by advertising the good deed to the public. If a company truly wanted to help fight obesity, they wouldn't spend hundreds of millions of dollars relentlessly marketing unhealthy products to children, and they certainly wouldn't spend more money bragging about doing good than actually doing good.

How was this study funded?
Support for this project was provided by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.

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