Countermarketing messages convince many parents to avoid buying sugary drinks for children

Public health message designed to reduce parents’ purchases of sugary drinks marketed as fruit or children’s drinks – convinced a significant percentage of parents to avoid these drinks, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington and from the University of Pennsylvania.

The study conducted by UW aimed to assess the effect of culturally appropriate countermarketing messages on drink choices, similar to austere anti-smoking campaigns, and involved more than 1,600 Latinx parents who participated by joining Facebook groups. The authors of the study focused on this demographic because Latinx children have a high rate of sugary drink consumption and the beverage industry intentionally targets the Latinx community, said Dr. James Krieger, lead author and Clinical Professor of Health Systems and Population Health at the UW School of Public Health.

The negative health effects associated with the consumption of sugary drinks -; like tooth decay or, later in life, diabetes -; disproportionately affect this community. We want these children and others to be able to avoid developing strong taste preferences for a product that will ultimately harm them. “

Dr James Krieger, principal author

To design their study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers consulted focus groups involving dozens of Latinx parents across the country to learn about their perceptions of how marketing works, how they think about what they buy for their children, as well as how to culturally adapt. messages that would resonate in their community.

“They know that targeted marketing happens all the time in the digital age, but what really appealed to them was the fact that they received misleading information that they felt was leading them to make choices. unhealthy on behalf of their children, ”Krieger said.

This industry marketing, Krieger added, has led parents to believe that fruit drinks are healthy drinks by creating a “health halo” around the product. Advertisements, labels and even online games and cartoons often contain claims about nutrients such as vitamin C and pictures of healthy children drinking their products while playing sports.

With information from these focus groups and the help of a Latinx marketing firm, researchers created countermarketing graphics and messages in Spanish and English designed to arouse outrage, fear of ill effects. on children and other negative emotions. The posts called for specific brands and images, while describing the adverse effects of these products.

“We looked at the anti-smoking messages and the words and types of images they used,” Krieger said. “We wanted messages that would appeal to people emotionally and cognitively because that’s what research shows people make choices.”

The researchers then enrolled 1,628 Latinx parents -; mostly women and low-income households -; participate in Facebook groups for six weeks to study the impact of cross messages on the drink choices and perceptions of fruit drinks of these parents.

The study divided the parents into three groups. The two “intervention” groups were those who received only fruit drink counter messages and those who received a combination of counter messages and water promotion messages. The third group, the control group, saw safety messages regarding car seats. Using a simulated online store offering fruit drinks, soda, water, milk or 100% fruit juice, parents in all three groups chose a drink for their children and received money that they could use to buy the drink in a real store.

The researchers found that parents who saw countermarketing messages alone or in combination with pro-water messages were less likely to buy a fruit drink and more likely to buy water. Specifically, parents in the fruit drink counter sales group decreased their virtual purchases of these drinks by 31% compared to the control group and by 43% by the group receiving the combined messages. Parents in the combined group chose water more often than the first group.

Based on these choices, the authors estimated that children in the combined group consumed 22% less added sugar than the average two to five year old children. In exit surveys, the authors wrote, parents in both intervention groups were also “considerably” less likely to trust brands of fruit drinks.

The researchers said the study is the first to “demonstrate the effectiveness of counter messages delivered only through social media, as well as the first to specifically target the consumption of sugary drinks in young children.” As a result of this study, the researchers also created a social media countermarketing toolkit for anyone to use to campaign against fruit drink purchases for children.

As Executive Director of Healthy Food America and with extensive experience developing and evaluating community-based chronic disease prevention programs, including a stint with Public Health-Seattle & King County, Krieger hopes the study will be widely used to reduce the consumption of sugary fruit drinks.

“For me there is no point in doing a study if it is not going to be applied to the evolution of things in the world, so we formed an advisory group and created the toolbox and a plan to reach the organizations. and encourage them to use the messages, ”Krieger said.


Journal reference:

Krieger, J., et al. (2021) Countermarketing on Fruit Drinks, Alone or With Water: A 2019 Randomized Controlled Trial in Latinx Parents. American Journal of Public Health.

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