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Be aware of soft drink advertising

A glass of iced cola



I have a patient who drinks a six-pack of sugared soda every day. As you might expect, he has a weight problem: in addition to his regular eating habits, he's consuming an extra 900 calories of sugary-sweet soft drink every day.

Soft drinks are pervasive in American culture and it's clear that the increase in their consumption since 1960 coincides with the widening of the American waistline. A single 12-ounce soft drink, consumed daily, has been associated with a 60% increase in a child's risk of obesity. In fact, at least 56% of school-age American children consume at least one soft drink per day. Adolescent males drink the most: 20% of them drink four or more soft drinks daily.

Recently there has been some calls for limits on the advertising and marketing of junk foods, including soft drinks, aimed at children. Product placement in movies represents an important part of that marketing, so researchers at the University of California at Davis examined soft-drink placement in the top-ten-grossing American films for each year between 1991 and 2000 (Inter J Beh Nutr Phys Act).

They found that of the movies that depicted beverages, 45% included at least one soft drink, whether branded or unbranded. Of those 45 movies, 72% showed at least one portrayal of a branded soft drink, with Coca-Cola and Pepsi products representing 85% of the branding.

More films showed an actor drinking a branded soft drink than a branded drink of another type (for example, a branded beer or a non-alcoholic beverage). Interestingly, branded soft drinks appeared on screen over 60% longer than unbranded soft drinks, and branded soft drinks tended to appear in comedies and family-oriented films more than in horror films or dramas.

What this means for you

Advertising in TV and film isn't limited to the ads you see between TV segments or in the movie theatre before the show starts. The next time you go to the movies, watch for these product placements. And watch how much soda you drink while you're there, too - choose the diet version, instead. Or better yet, choose water.

First posted: November 22, 2006