Teens are Drinking Over a Kilo of Sugar per Month!

Recently, my son asked me to buy him a sports drink after baseball practice with a sideways glance to see if I would bite. He followed with a flurried explanation about being sweaty after running around and some mumbling about electrolytes and his muscles.

He whined and pleaded after my predictable answer that ‘water is the best drink for an athlete.’ But his question and approach mimics what is seen in the research.

  1. Sugary drinks are heavily marketed to kids
  2. Children exposed to this kind of marketing will nag their parents for unhealthy food and beverages.
  3. Parents that are nagged for junk foods or drinks are more likely to give in and buy those unhealthy products. (Although not in this case!!)

It’s amazing to me just how sneaky the marketing is, how persuasive it is and how often it operates on a subconscious level.

Most of us are probably familiar with sports drink sponsorship on TV – seeing football or hockey teams drinking from branded bottles and the branded ice chest being dumped over the winning coach which are such common images in the world of professional sports.

But the marketing has become much more sophisticated.

My son, who doesn’t see any advertising on TV, watches you-tube clips of people doing awesome and extreme sports that are sponsored by one company. He doesn’t even realize that it’s advertising but he definitely has a high opinion of that particular drink.

Another company has great big branded monster trucks that tour around at community events. But that’s not all, this company also sponsors race cars, surfing, skateboarding and mountain and BMX biking competitions. It also has a long list of athletes that it supports – not to mention DJs and then there is the gallery of scantily clad girls (and the rampant sexism is a whole other issue) .

Visit the sponsored athletes’ facebook pages or twitter accounts and you can see strong endorsements for those brands – in the clothes they wear, the images posted and even in their messages.

It’s easy to see how carefully and thoroughly these companies are targeting teen boys with all things ‘cool’ in the teen boy world. But marketers know that they can win over the shoulder markets on either side of their teen target. By targeting teens and young adults, they stand to gain a market share of younger boys that want to seem cool and older as well as those older guys that want to seem cool and younger.

The branded t-shirts, ball caps and bumper stickers for men beyond their twenties that want to hold on to their youth are one thing but there are also toys. Marketing to kids is about building brand loyalty at a very early age and therefore creating life-long consumers. Go into any convenience store and you can see the power displays that reinforce all the other TV, on-line and social media marketing – it’s a powerful mix.

With such strong and pervasive marketing, it’s not surprising that teenagers are some of the biggest consumers of sugary drinks. The average teen consumes 1.2 kilos of sugar from drinks in just a month![i, ii] This puts our children at risk for diabetes and other weight related chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

This is why the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition is calling on governments to restrict food and beverage marketing to children.

By Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications, BC Healthy Living Alliance

i. Health Behavior in School Aged Children. A world health organization cross-national study. Social Program Evaluation Group, Queen’s University at Kingston. Public Health Agency of Canada

ii. Garriguet D. Beverage consumption in children and teens. Health Reports. 2008;19(4). Available from: http://www.statcan.

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