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Frequently Asked Questions

What is this research about?

In 2011, the Rudd Center conducted a comprehensive study of the nutrition and marketing of sugary drinks and energy drinks to youth. This report presented the nutrient quality of sugary drinks and energy drinks, evaluated the products marketed to children, quantified young people's exposure to sugary drink and energy drink marketing, and described the various marketing practices used to reach children and teens.  This update looks at changes in the last three years in the nutrition quality and marketing landscape for sugary drinks and energy drinks.

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 and energy 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 teens 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. Highly-caffeinated energy drinks also play a role in the diet of young people; however these are products youth under 18 should never consume. Energy drink marketing is designed to appeal to youth and reaches youth in many ways beyond traditional marketing.

How did you choose the 47 companies that are included in the analysis?

The Rudd Center analyzed 914 products from 47 different companies that contain added sugar - full-calorie soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas. In addition, researchers assessed zero-calorie energy drinks and children's fruit drinks. Together these products comprise 92 percent of sugary drink and energy drink product sales. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Monster Beverage Corporation and Kraft Foods produced nearly one-half of the products in the analysis.

How did you assess all the ways that companies market to children?

We reported youth exposure to sugary drink and energy drink advertisements and product placements on television and analyzed product packaging, beverage company websites, display advertisements on other websites, social media marketing, and mobile marketing applications.

We utilized syndicated data when available, including data from Nielsen, comScore,  and IRI, and implemented analyses to quantify the extent of these marketing practices. In addition, we examined the different forms of marketing and targeting  techniques presented in the advertisements. The methods are described in full detail in the report.

Does this study assess sugary and energy drinks on nutrition or marketing?

Both. This research assesses the nutritional quality of sugary drinks and energy drinks and the exposure and content  of sugary drink and energy drink advertising to youth.

Isn't it obvious that sugary drink and energy companies market to children and teens? Why is this news?

Since our last report in 2011, major beverage manufacturers have pledged to develop and promote healthier beverages through industry-led initiatives. Local communities also have launched public health campaigns to increase awareness of the negative health effects of sugary drinks and reduce their availability in public settings. However, at the same time that companies promise to promote healthier drinks, they continue to extensively market their unhealthy products, including regular soda and fruit drinks, as well as sugar-sweetened sports drinks, iced tea, flavored water, and energy drink and shots. Objective and transparent data are necessary to evaluate beverage companies’ commitment to reducing young people’s consumption of sugary drinks that can harm their health. This report quantifies changes in the nutrition of sugary drinks and energy drinks and how they are marketed to children and teens.

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 nearly all of the sugar they contain is added sugar. Even smaller products contain excessive added sugar: just one 6-ounce Capri Sun fruit drink pouch provides 107% of the added sugar a 4-year-old should have in a whole day. Many fruit drinks are just as calorie dense as regular soda. Some children’s drinks, including Welch’s Chillers and two varieties of Hawaiian Punch, even have more sugar per ounce than Coca-Cola. Also, children’s fruit drinks often feature nutrition-related messages and ingredient claims on packaging that might make them seem healthier than regular soda, when in fact they are not.

Don't kids need Gatorade or Powerade after sports practices and games?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that there is no need for most 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 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. Although many sugary drinks contain front-of-package messages highlighting their vitamin and mineral content 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 marketing is high for children and even higher for 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 a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.