A new study released by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut has found that sales of sugary drinks reached a total of $14.3 billion in 2013.
One important reason for this continuation of sales, says the research, is that many parents are misled by product marketing and labels. Parents are continuing to believe that drinks which contain a large amount of sugar, including fruit drinks, sports drinks, and flavored water, are “healthy,” despite recent federal dietary guidelines which suggest added sugar should be limited to 10% of total calories.
“Although many parents know that soda is not good for children, many still believe that sugary drinks are healthy options,” says Jennifer Harris, who wrote the study and is director of marketing initiatives at Rudd Center. “The labeling and marketing for these products imply that they are nutritious, and these misperceptions may explain why so many parents buy them.”
At the same time, beverage manufacturers are seeing a decline in the sale of regular and diet carbonated soft drinks and are turning to water, flavored water, sports drinks, and milk products in order to boost their sales, reports Lenny Bernstein for The Washington Post.
Officials at the American Beverage Industry recently spoke out against the new study. Christopher Gindlesperger, senior director of public affairs, said it was merely another study meant for “bashing beverages” while at the same time “undermines parents’ ability to make decisions themselves.”
As an industry, Gindlesperger says, “We provide clear, factual information on our all of our packaging — and even go beyond government requirements — to make sure parents have the information they need to make the choices that are right for them and their families. There’s nothing wrong with having a sports drink or a soda or a juice drink — it’s about moderation and balance. And parents get that.”
In the meantime, the survey discovered that 96% of parents reported providing their children with sugary drinks in the month before the survey was released. Most commonly offered were fruit drinks, given by 77% of parents. About 80% of parents with children between the ages of 2 and 5 offered fruit beverages such as Sunny Delight or Capri Sun to their children, writes Bruce Horovitz for USA Today.
In addition, almost half of the parents who participated in the survey believed flavored water to be a healthy option, and over one quarter of parents were under the impression that fruit drinks and sports drinks were also healthy. Interestingly, African American and Hispanic parents were found to be more likely than white parents to view sugary drinks as a healthy option.
Parents admitted being influenced by package labels which claim the ingredients are “real” or “natural,” contain vitamin C, or were low in sodium or calories.
One of the authors of the study, Marlene Schwartz, said more attention needs to be paid to the labels on these items, as well as “other marketing tools that may mislead parents to believe that some sugary drinks are healthful options for children.”