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US: Study reignites spat on soft drinks marketing to youth

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A Yale Rudd Center study criticising drinks producers for targeting teenagers with high sugar and caffeine-laden drinks has drawn fierce rebuke from the American Beverage Association.

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The study claimed that children aged between 12 and 17 years are exposed to increasing amounts of advertising around soft drinks, and in particular full-calorie and energy drinks. The total number of soft drinks adverts viewed by this age group rose by 14% in 2010, versus 2008, its figures show.

The research, published by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said that a rise in digital marketing campaigns was largely responsible for the higher exposure. Publication of the report comes as authorities in several countries weigh possible 'sin taxes' on soft drinks, and the study will add more fuel to the ongoing debate in the US regarding marketing to young people.

However, the American Beverage Association (ABA) strongly rejected the Rudd Center's findings. "This report is another attack by known critics in an ongoing attempt to single out one product as the cause of obesity," said the ABA's president and CEO, Susan Neely. 

"The people at our member companies - many of whom are parents themselves - are delivering on their commitment to advertise only water, juice and milk on programming for children under 12," she said. "Recent research supports that there has been a dramatic change in food and beverage advertising during children's programming, with advertisements for soft drinks decreasing by 96% between 2004 and 2010 alone." That reseach was conducted by Georgetown Economic Services and sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Association of National Advertisers.

A key dividing line between industry and campaigners is the targeting of teenagers with marketing campaigns. So far, the US Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection has focused on drawing up guidelines for marketing to children under 12 years.


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