Companies spent more than $1 billion in ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks in 2018

June 23, 2020

Hartford, Conn. -- Beverage companies spent $1.04 billion to advertise sugary drinks and energy drinks in 2018, a 26% increase compared to 2013, according to Sugary Drinks FACTS 2020, a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. The report documents continued extensive targeted advertising of sugary drinks by beverage companies directed to Black and Hispanic youth, which contributes to health disparities affecting communities of color--the same communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The report found that more than one-half of the total sugary drink advertising expenditures--$586 million--promoted regular soda and soda brands alone, an increase of 41% over 2013. By contrast, advertising spending for all diet and unsweetened drinks combined, including plain water and 100% juice, totaled $573 million. Advertising spending increased across a variety of sugary drink categories between 2013 and 2018--sports drink advertising increased by 24%, totaling $159 million in 2018, and advertising for sweetened iced tea almost tripled, from $38 million in 2013 to $111 million in 2018.

The report also found that companies continue to target sugary drink TV ads to Black and Hispanic youth, who have higher rates of sugary drink consumption compared to non-Hispanic White youth. Since obesity and other diet-related diseases disproportionately affect communities of color, targeted advertising of products that contribute to these negative health outcomes is especially problematic. Systemic and institutional barriers to health and opportunity also contribute to poorer health outcomes and persistent health disparities for these communities.

The report found: "Our findings demonstrate that beverage companies continue to target their advertising to Black and Hispanic communities, which exacerbates ongoing health disparities affecting those communities" said Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, lead study author and senior research advisor at the Rudd Center. "Companies should not target communities of color with advertising that almost exclusively promotes unhealthy products and undermines efforts to improve the long-term health of young people."

Researchers used Nielsen data to identify brands in the soda, sports drink, energy drink, iced tea, fruit drink, and flavored water categories that spent at least $100,000 in advertising and that contained added sugar--excluding children's drinks previously examined in Children's Drink FACTS 2019 --and reported on diet soda and diet drinks in the same categories for comparison. Researchers collected data on the nutrition quality and advertising of sugary drinks and energy drinks by category, company, and brand, while also identifying categories, brands, and companies with TV advertising targeted to teens, Hispanic youth, and/or Black youth.

Additional top-level findings: "Beverage companies have promised to take action to reduce the amount of beverage calories people consume, but at the same time they dramatically increased advertising for their full-calorie sugary drinks," said Fran Fleming-Milici, PhD, a co-author and director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center. "It's well past time for the industry to stop putting profits ahead of our kids' health and put their advertising dollars behind products that contribute to good health rather than undermine it."

The report authors include the following recommendations:
The report was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

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