Fruit drinks, sports drinks, flavored waters; sugary drinks by any other name are not so sweet.
Parents have gotten the message that soda is not good for children, and savvy corporations trying to build brand loyalty among its increasingly health-conscious customers are also on board. USA TODAY reported that Burger King, following the lead of McDonald’s and Wendy’s, has replaced soda fountain drinks with fat-free milk, low-fat chocolate milk and apple juice in its Kids Meals.
But parents are missing the boat on other incarnations of sugary drinks, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “Many still believe that other sugary drinks—fruit drinks, sports drinks and flavored water—are healthy options,” said Jennifer Harris, Ph.D, a study author and Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center, in a statement. “The labeling and marketing for these products imply that they are nutritious, and these misperceptions may explain why so many parents buy them.”
Nearly all parents who participated in the study (96 percent) reported giving sugary drinks to their child in the month prior to being surveyed. Fruit drinks and regular soda were provided most often by 77 percent and 62 percent of parents, respectively, followed by sports drinks, sweetened ice tea, and flavored water.
Among parents of children ages two-to-five, 80 percent poured fruit drinks, while four-in-ten served their kids regular soda.
The survey suggests they know not what they do. Parents who reported purchasing a given category of sugary drinks were much more likely than parents who did not to rate that category as healthy. Nearly half of the surveyed parents rated flavored water as healthy, while more than one-fourth considered fruit drinks and sports drinks to be healthy. Hispanic and African-American parents were more likely than white parents to rate some sugary drinks as healthy.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limited adding sugar to 10 percent of total calories. Previous research has shown that children and teens consume more than twice the recommended amount of sugar, and that these drinks are the primary source of added sugar in Americans’ diets.
Many surveyed parents said they were guided in their purchasing decisions by nutritional claims on packaging, such as indications that items were “real” or “natural,” contained vitamin C or were low in calories or sodium. They also tended to be swayed by branded products. While only three-in-ten surveyed parents consider fruit drinks to be healthy, four-in-ten rated Sunny D as healthy for their kids.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.