From 2008 to 2010, children's and teens' exposure to television ads for soda doubled, according to a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. And beverage companies targeted black and Hispanic kids more than others in recent ads, the report found.
Commercials for Coke and Dr. Pepper products led the increase. Pepsi actually showed young audiences 22 percent fewer commercials for its products in that same time period.
Under a voluntary agreement, beverage companies have pledged to improve advertising directed to kids. But "our results clearly show that the beverage industry's self-regulatory pledges are not working," says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center.
The American Beverage Association takes issue with the report's conclusions. "This report is another attack by known critics in an ongoing attempt to single out one product as the cause of obesity when both common sense and widely accepted science have shown that the reality is far more complicated," writes president and chief executive officer Susan Neely in a statement.
Neely also points to research documenting a dramatic change in food and beverage advertising during children's programming.
Between 2004 and 2010, advertisements for soft drinks decreased by 96 percent, according to a study conducted by Georgetown Economic Services. It also found that, during the same time period, ads for fruit and vegetable juices increased by 199 percent. (The study was sponsored by the food and beverage industry.)
The beverage industry also says the new Rudd report does not adequately differentiate between ads directed to children (think: Nickelodeon's Back at the Barnyard) and marketing to teens and general audiences (think: Dancing With the Stars). Lots of programs capture adolescent audiences, but are not considered to be children's programming
Beverage companies currently follow guidelines of the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the self-regulatory body for children's advertising. But the industry also played a part in shaping those guidelines to suit their business model.
The Rudd Center, however, would like to see the government place strict regulations on companies advertising unhealthy foods, like sugary beverages, to children. The Federal Trade Commission says that, together with the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is developing "a set of principles to guide industry efforts to improve the nutritional profile of foods marketed directly to children ages 2-17 and to tap into the power of advertising and marketing to support healthful food choices." But so far, it looks like those guidelines are likely to be voluntary, too.