Parents are persuaded that sugar-sweetened drinks are healthy options for their…

Front-of-package Claims And Images Persuade Parents That Sugar-sweetened Drinks Are Healthy Choices For Their Children

Parents are persuaded that sugar-sweetened drinks are healthy options for their children by statements and visuals on the front of the packaging.

According to new research from the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, front-of-package claims and marketing messages used to promote fruit-flavored drinks and toddler milk with added sugars contribute to parents’ misperceptions about the product nutrition and benefits for their young children.

According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children under the age of two should not ingest any added sugars.

Many parents are confused about several product categories, such as sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, 100 percent juice, toddler milk, and newborn formulae, according to the study’s findings, which were published in Maternal & Child Nutrition.

Companies frequently cross-brand their less nutritious items with healthier products and store these similar-looking drinks next to each other on store shelves, adding to the confusion.

“Common marketing strategies for fruit-flavored drinks and toddler milks appear to mislead, hide, and misrepresent genuine contents,” says Frances Fleming-Milici, the Rudd Center’s Director of Marketing Initiatives and the study’s lead author.

“When parents heard of the chemicals in these drinks and that health-related claims on the cartons are not backed by scientific research, they were astonished, and many were upset.

“Fruit-flavored drinks and toddler milk are not recommended by health authorities. Many goods intended for young children contain non-nutritive sweeteners, and sugar-sweetened fruit-flavored drinks contain very little juice.

Toddler milk is often made by baby formula firms and advertised as a step up from infant formula for children aged 12 to 36 months, however, they mostly consist of powdered milk, added sugar (corn syrup solids or other sweeteners), and vegetable oil. Despite professional advice, 27 percent of youngsters aged 12 to 18 months and over half of toddlers aged 2 to 4 years eat sugar-sweetened beverages on a daily basis.

Focus groups in low-to-moderate-income communities in Hartford, CT and Washington, DC were utilized to assess parents’ comprehension of typical marketing strategies used to sell these beverages and if they mislead parents into believing the drinks are healthy and/or necessary for children.

Participants were invited to discuss their knowledge, attitudes, and actions related to feeding various drinks to their children, as well as reflect on new information obtained through focus groups.

The following are some of the key findings:

Few parents are aware that, in addition to added sugar, many fruit-flavored drinks contain non-nutritive sweeteners.

Parents were shocked to learn that the statements on toddler milk packages are unsupported by scientific evidence and that they are “deliberately deceptive.”

Parents may pick sweetened fruit-flavored drinks for their children because of the greater price of 100% juice compared to sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, according to participants.

Participants said their grocery shopping was “rushed,” leaving them little time to discriminate between children’s items at the time of purchase and forcing them to rely on front-of-package information to make purchases.

Because they began receiving toddler milk coupons and samples when their child was “closer to a year,” parents believed that companies tracked their child’s age after signing up for infant formula coupons.

The findings highlight the need for legislation to address the possibly deceptive marketing of these drinks and show how counter-marketing can be used to lower the amount of sweetened fruit-flavored drinks and toddler milk provided by parents.

Consumers should be informed that sweetened fruit-flavored beverages and toddler milk are also sugary drinks, and they should be assisted in identifying added sugar and non-nutritive sweeteners as part of current sugary drink reduction programs.

According to Fleming-Milici, “industry can and should do more.” “Improving product transparency and removing deceptive marketing of toddler milks and fruit-flavored beverages can go a long way toward assisting parents in their efforts to deliver healthful liquids to their children.”