OK, if you're a grown-up reading this, here’s something I bet you are not doing with your free time on the internet: trolling around the soda companies’ websites for fun. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would guess that seeing the latest online games, video-sharing opportunities, and apps from the likes of, say, MyCoke.com probably doesn’t make the top of your to-do list.
Still, if you want to experiment and not just take my word for it, see for yourself what you miss out on. Here’s a site with pictures of and by kids. This one has its own cute social network and a darling bear; this one a robot dog. This one has prizes and tuition giveaways for teens and young gamers.
Checking them out, you will probably get the feeling that these sites are not for you, and you would be right. They are targeted at children. Teens, yes, but younger children, too. A few years ago, under threat of regulation, a lot of the sugary drink-makers and junk food sellers took a vow to police themselves. They said they would stop marketing to children, and what happened? It got worse. Now a whopping 72% of food and drink advertising to children falls in the category of the least healthy options on the market; less than 1% are actually ads for healthy foods. Keep in mind that children under 7 can’t decipher an advertisement from other content, and you see why in other countries marketing like this is off limits.
Yes, parents have a role in what their children eat, drink, and see on a computer. Still, most parents are not with their children every hour of every day until they reach the Age of Making Good Choices for Themselves (whatever that is). That leaves families a little at the mercy of what’ is out there in the world.
And what is out there includes this one category of products—the single biggest contributor of sugar in children’s diets—that stands alone. It isn’t food, because it doesn’t make you full or offer any kind of nourishment. And though its defenders can rattle off a number of contributors to childhood obesity and overweight, the facts are this one thing is a big, driving factor. You already know that Americans are burning fewer and taking in more calories than a generation ago, but you might not know that 42% of the extra calories consumed today don’t show up on a plate but in a cup. As soda consumption has risen, so, in nearly perfect alignment, has child obesity. Today, an astonishing 1 in 3 Texas teens report having three or more servings of sugary drinks, every day. The bottom line, according to the USDA: if we could reduce (not even eliminate) consumption of the liquid sugar alone, the average overweight kid would lose 4.5 pounds per year.
We don’t have to remain silent. We can stand up and say children matter more than some big industry group that profits at their expense.
If this issue strikes a chord with you, please drop me a line. We are looking for volunteers to help us educate folks for an hour or two on the Capitol grounds in the weeks ahead. (I’m picturing "make your own soda” demonstrations, showing the 55 packets of sugar in a 2-liter soda canister, but would love to hear your ideas.) And please check out www.txchildren.org/DrinkWell to learn more. We’re working to put Big Soda back in its place--where it was in Texas, back when sugary drinks for children were occasional treats, not every-meal staples. . . and back when every-day kids were healthier, as a result.
[NOTE: This was cross-posted to the website of our new blogging partner, LiveMom, a blog for Texas mothers and parent activists. Check out more of our recent LiveMom posts here.]