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Sugary Drink FACTS in Brief

Sugary drinks continue to be a significant source of calories in the American diet

  • In 2013 U.S. households spent $14.3 billion on sugary drinks, compared to $10.7 billion on 100% juice, plain water, diet soda and other diet drinks. $6.4 billion was spent on regular soda alone in 2013, almost double the amount spent on diet soda.
  • There was a slight decline of 7% in regular soda sales versus 2010, and gallon sales of bottled water increased 15%. However gallon sales of other beverage categories (including both regular and diet products) increased: flavored water (+7%), sports drinks (+12%), ready-to-drink tea and coffee (+21%), and energy drinks (+41%).
  • Regular soda, fruit drinks, and energy drinks continue to have the highest median sugar content at 24 to 29 grams (totaling 100 to 110 kcal) per 8-ounce serving. However, many drinks had much more sugar than this.  For example, just one serving of Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid Cranberry Juice Cocktail contained 57 grams of sugar.

Beverage companies varied in the amount of information they were willing to provide

  • The 3 major beverage companies (Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo) made it easier to obtain nutritional information for most of their products compared with 2010, and many drinks contained exact calories and caffeine content per serving.
  • However, obtaining nutrition information became more difficult for some product categories. Fruit drink manufacturers (including Campbell Soup Company [V8 brand products], Ocean Spray, and Welch’s) often provided nutrition facts panel information about their products online, but not ingredient lists. They were also less likely to indicate calories per serving on product packages. Major energy drink companies (Monster Energy and Rockstar) did not provide nutrition information on their websites in 2014 at the time of our analysis (although they had in 2011).
  • Low sugar claims often appeared on children’s drinks, but brand claims did not make it clear that sugar had been replaced with artificial sweeteners. Some high sugar fruit drinks, including Hawaiian Punch and Sunny D, contained artificial sweeteners despite high sugar content. 

Children and teens are seeing fewer sugary drink ads than in 2010, but companies continue to aggressively market sugary drink products

  • In 2013, teens saw 30% fewer and children saw 39% fewer ads for sugary drinks versus 2010. However, this still amounted to an average of 144 ads for preschoolers, 169 ads for children and 287 ads for teens.
  • In 2013, beverage companies spent $814 million dollars to advertise sugary drinks and energy drinks, and a further $52 million on brand advertising for soda and other sugary drinks, almost twice the amount spent on advertising drinks without added sugars. Spending on sugary drinks was 4.2 times higher than for plain water and 100% juice.
  • Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple Group reduced advertising spending on sugary drinks in 2013 as compared to 2010. However, PepsiCo more than doubled spending on regular sodas and became the company with the highest ad spending in 2013.
  • Against the trend of decreasing advertising, exposure to TV ads for Pepsi regular more than tripled for children and doubled for teens, with further increases in exposure to Gatorade and Mtn Dew. Dr Pepper Snapple Group also tripled spending on its Snapple brand, with fourfold increases in youth ad exposure.

Energy drink advertising targeting children and teens is of great concern

  • In 2013, preschoolers, children and teens saw more advertising for 5-hour energy than for any other single brand, amounting to 25, 30, and 73 ads respectively, and Red Bull ranked sixth in TV advertising to children and fourth for teens.
  • While 5-hour Energy reduced its advertising spending in 2013 versus 2010, Red Bull increased advertising spending by 84% and TV advertising to youth by 59% or more. Further, both companies appeared to target their TV advertising to a teen audience, as teens saw 20% to 30% more of these ads compared with adults.
  • Although not advertised on English-language TV, SK Energy, a recently introduced energy shot, ranked ninth in advertising spending in 2013 at $20 million.

 Shows with broad appeal are used by beverage companies to reach children and teens with covert marketing techniques

  • Since 2010, both PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group have joined Coca-Cola in using product placements in popular talent shows (American Idol, America’s Got Talent and The X Factor) to promote their brands. A popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory also promoted several soda and energy drink brands.
  • Total screen time for product appearances almost tripled relative to 2010 to reach 900 minutes. Snapple and Coca-Cola made up 73% of appearances viewed by children and 60% of those viewed by teens for sugary drinks.

Companies employ increasingly sophisticated digital media campaigns to reach young people

  • Social media marketing grew exponentially from 2011 to 2014: Facebook likes tripled to over 300 million, Twitter followers increased 11 times to 11 million, and over 40 YouTube sugary drink and energy drink channels had 1.8 billion video views. Regular soda and energy drink brands represented 84% of these Facebook likes, 86% of Twitter followers, and 95% of YouTube views.
  • Companies are also building followers in newer platforms including Instagram and Vine.
  • Many websites evaluated in 2010 had reduced visitors and website display ads on third party youth websites were reduced by 72%. However, 8 websites evaluated both years had increased visitors by 20% from 2010 to 2013, with energy drink websites for 5-hour Energy and Red Bull showing the greatest growth in visitors under 18.

Companies continue to target black and Hispanic teens

  • Companies have explicitly identified multicultural youth as prime targets for their growth strategies, and have focused on sponsorships of events and celebrities that attract multicultural audiences with “crossover” appeal.
  • Advertising on Spanish-language TV rose 44% to $83 million in 2013. Dr Pepper Snapple Group almost tripled its spending on Spanish-language TV and several brands, exclusively advertised through this medium. SK Energy, 7UP, and Fuze iced tea.
  • Hispanic preschoolers and children saw 23% and 32% more unhealthy drink ads on Spanish-language TV in 2013 than in 2010, with Hispanic preschoolers viewing approximate one-third more of these ads than either Hispanic children or teens viewed.
  • Overall, Black youth saw more than twice as many TV ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks compared with white youth. Black teens saw four times as many Sprite ads and three times as many Coca-Cola ads as white teens saw.
  • In 2013, Hispanic youth were 93% more likely to visit all beverage company websites compared with all youth, while black youth were 34% more likely to visit these website.


Beverage companies must stop marketing unhealthy products directly to youth.

  • Stop marketing sugary drinks and energy drinks to children and teens.
  •  Replace marketing of high-sugar beverages to youth with marketing of reduced-sugar drinks, plain water, and 100% juice.
  • Provide easily accessible ingredient information online and disclose nonnutritive sweeteners on product packaging.
  • Do not target sugary drink marketing to communities that suffer disproportionately from diet-related diseases, including Hispanic and black youth.
  • Strengthen the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative Standards to include all forms of marketing to children up to age 14.

Regulation and legislation can help counteract the impact of marketing. Policymakers should:

  • Require straightforward and easy-to-understand labeling requirements, such as compelling companies to highlight calories, added sugars, and nonnutritive sweeteners on the front of product packaging.
  • Require products that feature nutrition-related claims on package to meet minimum nutrition standards.
  • Provide funding to regularly update the Federal Trade Commission’s reports on food and beverage industry expenditures on marketing directed to children and adolescents.
  • Monitor and enforce children’s privacy protections under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), including social and mobile media.
  • Prohibit the sale and marketing of energy drinks to children under 18.

Others can take action to encourage beverage companies to reduce marketing of sugary drinks and energy drinks to children and teens.

Advocates can play an important role by serving populations that often have a limited voice in the policy process. 

  • Support policy measures that can help reduce consumption and marketing of sugary drinks.
  • Educate policy makers on the negative impact of marketing sugary drinks to children and teens and how it is contributing to overconsumption of these products.
  • Educate shareholders about specific company marketing practices to fuel demand for responsible marketing practices.
  • Pressure beverage companies with public relations and letter writing campaigns demanding they improve their marketing practices.
  • Develop community-based solutions and share success stories.

Researchers can help build critical evidence to support policy maker and advocacy actions.

  • Evaluate strategies to reduce health disparities associated with consumption of sugary drinks.
  • Measure the impact of sugary drink marketing targeted to populations vulnerable to health disparities.
  • Examine how newer forms of marketing (e.g., social media, product placements, internet advertising) may differentially affect youth.
  • Establish ongoing measures of youth consumption of energy drinks, as well as other sugary beverages.
  • Evaluate the efficacy of any new policies implemented to reduce consumption or limit marketing of sugary drinks.
  • Continue to monitor industry progress in reducing marketing of sugary drinks and energy drinks to children and teens.

Parents can also take steps to let beverage companies know that they must change their practices.

  • Buy and serve children water and low-fat or non-fat plain milk and small portions of 100% juice instead of sugary drinks (including fruit drinks, soda, and sports drinks).
  • Ignore the claims on the front of children’s drink packages, and check ingredient lists for artificial sugars, artificial sweeteners, and juice content.
  • Work with local school districts to reduce unhealthy marketing in schools.
  • Contact beverage companies and let them know they must stop marketing their unhealthy products directly to youth.
  • Learn more about the nutrition of sugary drinks and how they are marketed to children and teens by visiting