Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Do Advertising Guidelines Help or Hinder Informed Choices about Which Soft Beverages to Drink?

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Do Advertising Guidelines Help or Hinder Informed Choices about Which Soft Beverages to Drink?

Article excerpt

Controversy erupted in 2012 when a McDonald's fizzy drink targeted at children was cleared of misrepresenting its healthy 'one of your five a day' claims, and of its alleged cynical exploitation of the five a day logo for commercial benefit. The principle underlying the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing is stated as follows:

'Public health policy increasingly emphasises good dietary behaviour and an active lifestyle as a means of promoting health. Commercial product advertising cannot reasonably be expected to perform the same role as education and public information in promoting a varied and balanced diet but should not undermine progress towards national dietary improvement by misleading or confusing customers'.1

The requirement is that products and product information must be marketed in such a way that enables consumers to make an informed transactional decision.

According to the Department of Health's guidelines, one portion of pure fruit juice counts as one of your five a day.2 An investigation found that McDonald's did not abuse the five a day licence guidelines with its product, which consists of a blend of 60% fruit juice from grapes, apples and raspberries with natural sparkling water, natural flavourings and the preservative potassium sorbate, which has no added sugars, artificial colours or flavours. It is also fair to say that products of similar composition are sold through other retail outlets, including 'health food' stores, also sporting the one of your five a day information.

If the information and marketing guidelines are not being contravened, then perhaps it is time to investigate the knowledge base and review the nutritional guidance that forms the basis of the advertising codes of practice. It seems that even a brief investigation into whether soft drinks with fruit juice in them or fruit juice itself legitimately support the agenda to encourage greater consumption of fruit and vegetables raises some interesting questions.

An adviser to the government on obesity has called for fruit juice to be removed from the recommended list of five a day portions of fruit or vegetables, saying it contains as much sugar as many soft drinks.3 Susan Jebb, Head of the Diet and Obesity Research Group at the Medical Research Council's Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge University, works closely with the government on diet and obesity issues and also leads the government's health responsibility deal, which oversees voluntary pledges by the food and drink industry to improve public health. Furthermore, Barry Popkin, Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina, told the Guardian in September 2013 that he considered fruit juices and smoothies to be 'the new danger'.4 Popkin is of the view that government guidance needs to change, particularly as companies are focusing more on marketing fruit juice and smoothies as the new healthy beverage. For example, in the United Kingdom, Coca Cola owns Innocent smoothies, while PepsiCo has Tropicana. Launching Tropicana in 2008, Pepsi's sales pitch was that the drink would help the nation to reach its five a day fruit and vegetable target, by using each 250ml serving to count as two fruit portions.

According to the British Soft Drinks Association, the UK soft drinks market saw sales increase by 4% in 2013, although sales of fruit juice fell by 5% to 1.05 billion litres. The overall trend for the market as a whole is that consumption is increasing.5 It is likely that the current media coverage on developing knowledge and views about fruit juice and sugar will have an influence on consumers in the future. Heidi Lanschützer, a food and drink research analyst at Mintel, is of the same view: 'The question is whether it's a short or long term impact'. She says this will depend on how ongoing the coverage is, and whether schools ban juice, although the biggest impact will be whether the government takes Susan Jebb's advice and removes it from the five a day list: this would remove one of the market's biggest selling points. …

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