Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- Sugary drink companies speak to children early, often, and when parents are not looking.
And now a new study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, finds that in 2010, teens saw 20 percent more ads for sugary drinks than they did in 2008. And health experts are concerned that the most unhealthful food products are targeting youth.
The new study shows that the young are being bombarded by the ads on TV and everywhere they turn.
"They market to children at school, through concerts and sporting events, they also reach them through Facebook, YouTube and product placement in video games," said Dr. Marlene Schwartz, the deputy director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in New Haven, Connecticut.
Despite health and nutrition recommendations that children should have water when thirsty, with skim milk and limited amounts of real 100 percent fruit juice, the number one source of calories in the diets of teens is sugary drinks, including soft drinks, energy drinks, fruity flavored drinks and sports drinks.
"They have absolutely no nutritional value. They have no vitamins or minerals or any kind of substances that are going to help you prevent disease, that are going to help children grow, develop musculature, develop bone density, think smarter, have better cognitive ability," explained Dr. Melinda Sothern, an associate professor at the LSU Health Sciences School of Public Health. Sothern is the section director and professor of research and clinical exercise physiologist.
Children's behavior is easily conditioned. Last year, sugary drink companies spent nearly $1 billion to reinforce the message to young people.
In some cases minorities are especially targeted.
"They're being brainwashed, that's it simply," Sothern said. "They're being brainwashed by industry to want to like these foods."
Studies also show that when children think they are getting a food as a reward, they will likely prefer that one. Parents usually tell children to eat their broccoli then they will be rewarded with ice cream.
But if parents told them the opposite, to eat their ice cream so they would be rewarded with broccoli, children would more likely prefer the broccoli.
And the body doesn't feel as full drinking calories as it does eating them. In fact, just one small eight ounce sugary drink a day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60 percent.
"This is in a multitude of studies, so we know that taking in excess sugar is associated with developing obesity during childhood. It's clear," said Dr. Sothern. "Let me strongly encourage parents to go to this website and get enlightened, because when you read this you're going to get angry."
Studies show what young people see in advertising, they will prefer to eat or drink.
Diana Garza Ciarlante, company spokesperson for Coca-cola, issued this response:
The Coca-Cola Company has a worldwide policy that we do not market any of our products directly to children under the age of 12. This means that we do not buy advertising directly targeted at audiences that are made up of more than 35 percent children under 12. This policy applies to all of our beverage brands and to a wide range of media outlets including television, radio and print, as well as cinema, the Internet, product placement and mobile phones.
The Rudd Center’s findings contradict peer-reviewed research published in the August 2011 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (Powell, et al., Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, published online August 1, 2011), which found that between 2003 and 2009, the largest reductions in advertising to children (ages 2-5 and 6-11) were seen in the beverage category. It also found that among all beverages, regular soft drinks represented the largest advertising reductions. Clearly, our Company and our industry are committed to responsible advertising and the numbers prove it.