The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has published Sugary Drink FACTS 2014, a report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that targets trends in beverage advertising to children. Claiming that companies spent $866 million on advertising for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in 2013, the report argues that even though youth-oriented TV programs and websites showed fewer SSB ads in 2013 than in 2010, the advertising available “is still overwhelmingly for unhealthy drinks.”

The authors point out that as SSB advertising on children’s websites declined by 72 percent, “the popularity of energy drinks and regular soda brands on social media increased exponentially from 2011 to 2014.” According to the report, energy drink and regular soda brands now represent 84 percent of the 300 million Facebook likes for the brands included in the analysis, 89 percent of 11 million Twitter followers, and 95 percent of 1.8 billion YouTube views. In addition, these brands purportedly engaged both celebrities and regular users “to virally increase their social media reach, with retweets, regrams, and revines, as well as teen-targeted contests inviting users to post videos and photos on various platforms.”

Alleging that companies spend four times as much to advertise SSBs as they spend on 100-percent juice and plain water, the report authors have urged the beverage industry to “stop marketing sugary drinks and energy drinks to children and teens.” Among other things, they recommend that companies not only refrain from social-media marketing practices that disproportionately appeal to teens, but that they “strengthen the CFBAI [Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative] self-regulatory pledges to cover children up to age 14; ensure that companies’ self-regulatory policies cover all media; expand definitions of child-directed marketing; and increase the number of companies participating in the program.” The report also calls on regulators to require “straightforward and easy-to-understand labeling, including disclosing calories, added sugars, and artificial sweetener content on the front of all packaging.”

“Despite promises by major beverage companies to be part of the solution in addressing childhood obesity, our report shows that companies continue to market their unhealthy products directly to children and teens,” said Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives Jennifer Harris. “They have also rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor.” See Rudd Center Press Release, November 19, 2014.