Thanksgiving Conversation Starter: Is It Time to Ban Soda Ads on Prime Time Television?

Corporations are no longer allowed to advertise cigarettes on TV due to the potential impact it could have on our kids. When it comes to hard liquor, the government didn't ban it, the companies did it voluntarily. So, isn't it sugary sodas' turn?
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Did you know Coca-Cola's first television ad aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1950? It was part of a special live production featuring the ventriloquist Edger Bergen and his sidekick Charlie McCarthy? It was a humble foray into the new but powerful advertising medium for the soft drink giant. However, it didn't take long for the company to realize the power of TV, particularly on younger audiences.

I have to admit few commercials evoke warm holiday memories more than the ubiquitous Coca-Cola ads such as those polar bear commercials. Remember the one that starts with two polar bear cubs struggling to pull a Christmas tree up a snowy hill? After some help from mom (or possibly dad) -- the little ones are rewarded with an ice-cold coke for a job well done. Knowing what I know now about the effects of sugary drinks on children the image of kids chugging down a Coke [or in this case polar bear cubs] evokes the same feelings I'd get if they were taking a deep drag on cigarettes.

Oh give me a break -- it's just a soda, I can hear the comments already. A little soda once in a while is not going to harm anyone. Sadly, many kids are drinking a lot more than just a little bit of soda every day. The statistics are sobering -- Americans suck down about 30 percent more calories from sugar-sweetened drinks now than they did just 10 years ago. When it comes to children, they're gulping down up to 15 percent of their total calories for the day from these liquid candies. For teens its worse, soft drinks are the number one source of calories in a their diet. Did you know that a 12-ounce can of regular soda can contain as much as 10 and a ½ teaspoons of sugar. That's as much sugar found in two 1 ½ ounce chocolate candy bars.

Those numbers are shocking enough, however, what should give us all pause are the findings from one study that found if a child consumes just one drink filled with added sugar a day his or her chance of becoming obese increases by 60 percent! It's not surprising then that soda consumption is linked to childhood obesity, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

These facts are fairly well known by now. Groups like Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity have been sounding the alarms for quite sometime. You'd think with all this information, the least soft drink companies could do is cut back on the advertising -- at least those focused on kids. Right? Wrong! According to our friends at the Rudd Center kids are getting bombarded with more and more ads every year. Take a look at their latest findings:

Soda Ad Exposure

  • From 2008 to 2010, exposure to TV advertising for regular soda doubled for children.
  • In 2010, while children saw 50% more ads on TV for sugary fruit drinks, adults saw twice as many ads for 100% juice.
  • Capri Sun, Kool-Aid and Sunny D dominated children's exposure to sugary drinks on TV, together comprising 40% of children's total exposure to sugary drinks.

We should all find the fact that food companies are spending so much money on advertising directly to kids -- nearly $2 Billion a year -- truly disturbing. It doesn't sit well with our nation's pediatricians either. In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement which said exposure to advertising, "may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use." According to the AAP, kids and teens view more than 3,000 ads a year, on television alone. They say research has shown, "that young children -- younger than 8 years -- are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising."

Coke and Pepsi have gone even further, aided by spineless show producers, and their networks, by purchasing embedded ads directly into the shows content. The blurred line between the show and the ads pummel young viewers. The average age of an American Idol or X factor fan is 6-12! The beloved judges sip it as they dole out advice to the contestants. Celebrities chug it during the commercial breaks. Hardly seems right, does it.

For a while there it looked like the FTC and several other regulatory agencies, which are part of the so-called Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, were poised to take a strong stand on the issue. That was until last month when they caved-in to pressure from industry, which complained that the group's original recommended voluntary guidelines designed to limit the way unhealthy foods are sold to children between the ages of 2 and 17 was, "unworkable." Now the working group is thinking of changing the recommended age limits to kids between 2 and 11. Not only that, they're thinking of looking the other way when it comes advertising "seasonal or holiday confections" like Halloween or Easter candy, or at places such as theme parks or sporting events.

When will regulators get a backbone? They have to stop letting industry kick them around and keeping them from protecting the health of America's children? I know I'm not alone in my disgust.

Corporations are no longer allowed to advertise cigarettes on TV due to the potential impact it could have on our kids. When it comes to hard liquor, the government didn't ban it, the companies did it voluntarily. Can you imagine! It is now time to institute a similar TV advertising ban on soda. We are in the midst of a health epidemic. Some one has to start caring. Some food for thought as you sit down and give thanks for our children this holiday season.

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