Americans spent $1.4 billion on the most popular brands of children’s fruit drinks and flavored water beverages last year. Yet, according to nutritional guidelines, none of the drinks were healthy.
Why would loving parents do this? Perhaps because US beverage companies spent $20.7 million to advertise fun, fruity drinks with added sugar to families in 2018, according to Children’s Drink Facts 2019 of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
The report said majority, if not all, of the 34 top juice brands actually don’t have juice at all and, worse, contain very high sugar levels, which is not only unhealthy but dangerous.
“I know that parents want their children to be healthy, but the sweetened drink market is just incredibly confusing to parents,” said lead author Jennifer Harris, the principal investigator for the three-year study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics is alarmed that children consume so much added sugar,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and lead author of the AAP policy statement on ways to reduce sugary drink consumption in children and teens.
“Added sugars increase the risk of many health harms including type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease and childhood obesity,” said Muth, who was not involved in the study.
“Labels on drinks are confusing and misleading, causing parents to think they are providing their children a healthy drink when in actuality they are not.”
Two-thirds of the 34 sweetened drinks analyzed contained no juice, yet images of fruit appeared on 85 percent of the packages. Most drinks, which did contain juice, capped the amount at 5 percent.
“Most of the sweetened drinks say, ‘good source of vitamin C’ or ‘100 percent vitamin C’ but they have no or little juice,” Harris said.
It’s not just parents. Children are being exposed to advertising, the report found. Kids between the ages of 2 and 11 saw twice as many ads for sweetened drinks than ads for beverages without added sugars, and four times as many ads as adults.
Two of the most popular drinks — Kool Aid Jammers and Capri Sun Roarin’ — advertised their drinks directly to kids on children’s TV programs, the report said.
Both drinks contain zero percent juice but have pictures of fruit on the front of the packaging. CNN reached out to Kraft Heinz, who manufactures both products, but the firm did not respond.
Many major drink manufacturers have pledged to change how they advertise to children.
The American Beverage Association, which represents some of the drink manufacturers, provided this statement: “Our companies strictly follow guidelines established by independent monitors that limit the marketing of beverages to children to 100 percent juice, water or dairy-based beverages and monitor TV, radio and digital advertising to confirm compliance.”
There are several loopholes in their responsible marketing policy, Harris said. For example, children do see ads when watching TV with their parents.