Posted on Oct 16, 2019, 8 p.m.
Sweetened beverages accounted for 62% of children’s drink sales in 2018; nearly 9 in 10 children’s drinks show images of fruit on the packaging but shockingly nearly two thirds of these products don’t actually contain any juice.
Within America childhood obesity has become a very serious public health issue. Fruit drinks and many flavored waters contain added sugars or low calorie sweeteners, these products unfortunately continue to monopolize the children’s drink sales. These products accounted for 62% of the $2.2 billion in American children drink sales, even worse is that according to the researchers brands are using deceptive tactics to fool consumers as 85% of these beverages show images of fruit on the packaging but only 36% actually contained any juice.
This study from the University of Connecticut funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that healthier beverage choices such as 100% juice beverages only accounted for 38% of the children’s drink sales in 2018. This may be due to the producers of the unhealthier alternatives sparing no expenses on marketing as a total of $20.7 million was spent on advertising for children’s drinks with added sugars in 2018 with the target demographic being those under the age of 12.
Many of these unhealthy sugar laden drinks feature colourful packing and broad nutritional claims that are designed to catch children’s eyes as they sit on store shelves to instice the children into wanting them while misleading the parents into thinking that they hold some type of redeemable nutritional value; such misleading marketing tactics are making it harder for parents and children to identify which products really are healthier.
“Beverage companies have said they want to be part of the solution to childhood obesity, but they continue to market sugar-sweetened children’s drinks directly to young children on TV and through packages designed to get their attention in the store,” says lead study author Dr. Jennifer L. Harris in a release. “Parents may be surprised to know that pediatricians, dentists, and other nutrition experts recommend against serving any of these drinks to children.”
34 sweetened drinks and 33 drinks without added sugar or added sweeteners were examined; sales, overall advertising budgets, TV ads directed at children’s programming, nutritional value, and brand packaging were investigated. Low calorie artificial sweeteners were detected in 74% of the children’s sweetened drinks, and the majority of these products failed to acknowledge the presence of artificial sweeteners of the front of their packaging.
Perhaps the most pronounced problem identified was how similar the packaging between healthier and unhealthy packaging were: Most sugar-sweetened drinks contained only 5% real juice but 80% of these were in packaging containing images of fruits, 60% of these misleadingly claimed to include less or low sugar or no high fructose corn syrup. Beverages that are healthier and actually contained no sugary additives feature the same packaging sizes, fruit images, flavour names, and nutritional claims as the unhealthy sweetened beverages.
“You shouldn’t have to be a nutritionist to figure out whether or not a product is healthy for your child,” says study author Dr. Maria Romo-Palafox. “The fronts of the packages make children’s drinks look healthy, but there’s no way to know which ones have added sugars or low-calorie sweeteners reading the front. You have to read the nutrition facts panel on the back and you have to know the names of low-calorie sweeteners, such as acesulfame potassium and sucralose, to realize they are in the product.”
According to nutrition and health experts children under the age of 5 should not be drinking any beverages that contain added sugars or low calorie sweeteners, furthermore they should only be drinking limited amounts of 100% juice.
"One serving of many of the highest-selling fruit drink brands (such as Capri Sun Juice Drink, Hawaiian Punch, Sunny D, and Minute Maid Lemonade) had more than 50% of the recommended amount of daily added sugars for children, which is greater than 12.5 kg,” the findings state.
Some improvements were found such as companies are starting to produce unsweetened juice water blends. Besides one sugary drink brand, licensed cartoon characters only appeared on branding for unsweetened 100% juice beverages.
Television advertising also appears to be down with Kraft Heinz being the only to advertise sugary drinks directly during children’s programming consisting mostly of well known brands such as Capri Sun and Kool Aid. Even with the decrease in TV advertising children between the ages of 2-11 saw more than twice as many TV ads for unhealthy drinks than for healthier unsweetened beverages in this study.
One third of the children’s fruit drinks contained 16 grams or more of sugar per serving, this is over half of the recommended maximum of added sugars children should be consuming daily. Even the healthier beverages were packaged in containers that were too large, including the ones marketed towards those aged 1-3 years old as some of the brands contained 6 ounces of juice which is the absolute maximum amount recommended for those aged 4-6 years of age.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association warn that sugary drink consumption threatens children's health and policy strategies to reduce sugary drink consumption are "urgently needed." Sugary drinks contribute almost one-half of added sugars consumed by children, and fruit drinks (fruit-flavored beverages with added sugars) are the most common type of sugary drink for young children. Overconsumption of 100% juice by children also raises concerns,” says the report.
According to the researchers makers of these drinks must be made to be more transparent and clearly indicate what their products contain in order to help address this growing public health issue. The CFBAI Institute needs to create stricter nutritional standards for children’s drinks, making drinks with added sugars not be allowed to advertise to children and make clear labeling. The FDA should ban the use of healthy images on beverages that don’t actually contain any juice or a minuscule amount. State/local taxes should be extended to include children’s beverages which in theory would discourage parents from buying these unhealthy beverages for their children. The sugar empire needs to be put in check to better battle the continued growth of the obesity epidemic.
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