Marketing Bottled Water to Kids Under the Guise of a Health Program

A new brand of bottled water, aimed specifically at children, is being aggressively marketed in schools from Alaska to New York, through an advertising campaign masquerading as a "health" program. Health is always a great marketing tool. The brand ("Wat-aah!"), with colorful bottles, kid-focused advertisements, and a pseudo health message ("Healthy Hydration in the Nation") is being pushed as an anti-obesity alternative.

The company claims that their goal is to get kids off of sugary drinks as part of "the fight against childhood obesity." That's a great goal. But of course, drinking far, far cheaper (and equally clean) tap water would serve the same purpose, albeit without generating huge profits for the company. And national statistics show that we're NOT drinking less soda and sugar -- we're drinking less tap water and MORE bottled water and soda.

When you visit the company's "healthy hydration" website, you get a kid-focused "quiz" about the importance of drinking water, the problems with drinking sugary sodas, and the dangers of dehydration, with a conclusion that schools should start a "healthy hydration program" designed by this bottled water company, with the company's URL and images of their bottled water. "Getting into schools is a huge achievement for our brand," says Rose Cameron the company's founder and CEO. "We are therefore excited to be invited into these schools to conduct our Healthy Hydration education program and look forward to meeting the kids!" No doubt, and selling the company's products.

Moreover, the company makes several "versions" of their bottled water, with additives. One of these in particular, Wat-aah "Energy," contains "oxygen for increased metabolic function and energy." As I've described in detail in my book Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, water products with added "oxygen" are scams. Scientific studies have shown that extra oxygen added to bottled water doesn't stay there; it comes out of solution when you open the bottle and it provides no demonstrable benefit. But more importantly, we don't absorb oxygen through our stomachs. We get it through our lungs. Drinking bottled water with extra oxygen will, at best, produce an expensive burp.

This kind of corporate advertising to children and schools under the guise of a health program should not be permitted. If companies want to promote health in schools, they should support education programs that do not include pushing particular products. If schools want to adopt an "Anti-Obesity" campaign, they would do better to look to Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" effort. If schools want to show advertisements about obesity and how to reduce it, they should look to the Ad Council's Childhood Obesity Prevention effort sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations that aren't trying to sell children commercial products.

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