Kids And Sugary Drinks: How Clever Packaging Can Deceive Parents

Image: Shutterstock

Parents always make sure their kids stay on a healthy diet. Most parents cut down on anything that says fast food and opt for healthy options instead. And while we are making this switch to a healthier lifestyle, we often tend to include juice as part of their daily diet. And with so many options available in the market in the form of healthy alternatives, we never think twice about the product we end up purchasing. It’s time to stop for a minute and think – are we being deceived by the clever packaging of these drinks?

Sugary drinks are certainly not healthy. But according to the latest report, sugary drinks make up of more than 50% of all children’s drink sales in 2018. The report which was released by Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut found that 62% of the year’s drink sales were made up by fruit drinks which include low-calorie sweeteners and/or flavored drinks with added sugar (1).

Image: Shutterstock

Healthier drinks which were made from 100% fruit juice contributed 38% to the $2.2 billion sales the same year. A huge amount of money was spent on advertisements for these beverages. A whopping $20.7 million was spent by companies to create advertisements for these children’s drinks that had added sugars in them. The report further revealed that kids who were between the age of 2 to 11 saw over two times the ad for children drinks with added sugar than for children’s beverages without added sugar.

Lead study author and director of Marketing Initiatives of Rudd Center, Jennifer L. Harris says how beverage companies say they want to solve the issue of childhood obesity, but continue to manufacture children’s drinks with added sweeteners. They advertise them through TV and by clever packaging designs which gains the attraction of young kids. Jennifer also says how parents will be surprised to know that dentists, nutrition experts, and pediatricians recommend against giving any of these drinks to kids (2).

Image: Shutterstock

Researchers assessed 34 drinks with sweeteners and 33 drinks without added sugars from the top-selling brands to understand the difference between sweetened drinks and unsweetened drinks in terms of sales, advertising, product packaging design, and nutritional content. Brands who made a profit of at least $10 million in the 2018 sales were included.

How The Clever Packaging Can Be Confusing For Parents

Image: Shutterstock

The package claims of children’s beverages can confuse parents with regard to the nutritional content in them. Children’s fruit drinks with added sweeteners generally contain about 5% of juice or less. However, 80% of packages had images of fruit in them while 60% of these drinks claimed to have low sugar content or “no high fructose corn syrup.” Children’s beverages with or without added sugars had similar packaging design with flavor names, fruit imagery, and package claims on the front of the product (3).

In addition, 74% of children’s drinks with added sweeteners contained low-calorie sweeteners such as sucralose and stevia in them. However, such information was not mentioned on the front of the product.

Image: Shutterstock

However, Maria Romo-Palafox, study author and assistant professor of Nutrition and Dietician at Saint Louis University, says that one does not have to be a nutritionist to figure out what’s healthy for their child. There’s no way of understanding what’s healthy and what’s not by looking at the front of the product package. Hence, parents should read the nutrition facts at the back of the package to understand the low-calorie sweeteners such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium (4).

A consensus statement was released following the report by health and nutrition experts recommending parents to not give any drinks with added sweeteners or low-calorie sugar to children below the age of 5. It also recommends only limited amounts of 100% juices to be given to kids of this age group.

Children deserve some yummy drinks every once in a while. You can always make fresh-fruit juices at home if you want your child to have a nutritious drink. As for packaged drinks, check for the nutrition panel at the back of the package before you put them in your cart.