Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has issued an October 2011 report claiming that “young people are exposed to a massive amount of marketing for sugar drinks.” Titled Sugary Drink F.A.C.T.S.: Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score, the report apparently analyzes “600 products from 14 companies that contain added sugar,” including full-calorie soda, energy drinks and diet energy drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, iced tea, and diet children’s fruit juices. Researchers also reviewed traditional, digital and in-store marketing, as well as collected data on media exposure and spending from syndicated sources such as Nielsen, comScore Inc. and Arbitron Inc.

In particular, the Rudd Center alleges that industry pledges to market fewer sweetened beverages to children have not curbed advertising for these products. Among its key findings, the report concludes that (i) “More than half of sugary drinks and energy drinks market positive ingredients on their packages, and 64 percent feature their ‘all-natural’ or ‘real’ ingredients”; (ii) “Energy drinks are inappropriate for children and teens, yet they are heavily marketed to them”; (iii) “Parents think that nutrient claims about Vitamin C or ‘real’ and ‘natural’ ingredients mean that products are healthful options”; (iv) “From 2008 to 2010, children’s and teens’ exposure to full-calorie soda ads on TV doubled”; and (v) “Sixty-three percent of all full-calorie soda and energy drink ads on national TV included sponsorship of an athlete, sports league or team, or an event or cause.”

According to the report, beverage companies are not only using “more sophisticated and ubiquitous marketing tactics,” but have clearly targeted young people, “especially black and Hispanic youth.” The Rudd Center recommends that industry change its marketing practices by (i) developing “child-friendly products with less added sugar and no artificial sweeteners”; (ii) making nutrition information more accessible; (iii) disclosing caffeine content on packaging; (iv) discontinuing marketing efforts directed at teens; and (v) removing “nutrition related claims from high-sugar products.”

“Beverage companies have pledged to improve child-directed advertising,” said report author Jennifer Harris in an October 30, 2011, press release. “But we are not seeing a true decrease in marketing exposure. Instead companies have shifted from traditional media to newer forms that engage youth through rewards for purchasing sugary drinks, community events, cause-related marketing, promotions, product placements, social media, and smartphones.”