The #OpenTruth: How Big Soda Targets Minority Youth

As a mother, there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thinking about the health and well-being of my children in one fashion or another.  From concerns about their grades to cracking the whip on Xbox time, my job as their parent is to make sure I’m building a solid foundation so they can strive – mentally, emotionally, and physically.  This requires a daily recommitment, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m imperfect at it – especially when giving in to their pleas for the occasional sweet treat. “C’mon Mommy, just this once! I promise I won’t ask for anything else…” (Yeah right.)

So my role as gatekeeper to the “sugar express” isn’t made any easier by the ploys and strategic marketing campaigns by the sugary beverage industry pushing sugar-loaded beverages through educational incentives for parents and teens.  As if the showdown for sweets at the check-out aisle with my teenager isn’t enough, Big Soda is also spinning the consumption of their products through scholarships and tuition toward higher education:


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On the surface, these programs may seem harmless, –  I’ll point and click – then throw my name into a hat along with a simple “tweet” and hope for the best.  Coca-Cola Contest winners will receive a “Mentorship Experience” at the Coca-Cola Pay It Forward Academy in Atlanta with Steve Harvey (along with a $5,000 educational scholarship) and one (1) sweepstakes winner will receive a $1,000 gift card for sharing the Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program on their social network.  According to Coca-Cola, the Pay It Forward program, “embodies the spirit of giving back, helping our teens to reach greater heights through education,” while also, “Empowering moms and communities to help high school teens succeed.” Coca-Cola goes on to highlight that, “Giving teens the opportunity to excel is just one more way that you can support the next generation and build tomorrow’s leaders today…”

However, public health initiatives like the Open Truth campaign aren’t buying it.  Youth from the Bay Area of California are firing back at Big Soda and the sugar sweetened beverage industry — demanding an end to marketing tactics that target young people, parents, and communities of color in order to increase profits and brand loyalty.  The Open Truth campaign is a coalition supporting youth engagement and offers a wealth of free resources, information and staggering statistics on how Big Soda affects their community:


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According to their site, in 2010, African-American children and teens saw 80 to 90 percent more television ads for sugary drinks than their white peers. While beverage companies are spending more than $28 million a year on marketing campaigns specifically targeting African-American and Hispanic youth ages 2 to 17. “If current trends continue, 40% of all Americans will get [type 2] diabetes in their lifetimes and half of Latino and African American children born in 2000 will get [type 2] diabetes sometime in their lives.  Already, almost one-quarter of teens have either [type 2] diabetes or pre-diabetes — double the rate of just 10 years ago.”

“Sugary drinks are already the number one source of added calories in teen’s diets, yet the beverage industry is targeting youth of color as their future growth market,” says Sarah Fine, Project Director of the Health Communications Program at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations and a coordinator of the Open Truth campaign.

As a former public health professional addressing the childhood obesity epidemic throughout Los Angeles County where 1 out of 4 kids are overweight or obese, I know that Big Soda manufacturers are counting on my children (along with yours) to support their marketing efforts both through product placement at grocery stores and via social media campaigns like #MakeItHappy and Pay it Forward. But let us not be fooled by sugar-coated incentives promoting education without arming ourselves with the truth first.

While the road may seem like an uphill battle against the sugar sweetened beverage industry for parents, access to educational resources combating Big Soda are ready and available to us thanks to initiatives like Open Truth — where taking action begins with a simple visit to their website today.


The Open Truth Campaign is a collaboration between Shape Up San Francisco (project of the Population Health Division of the SFDPH) and The Bigger Picture (Youth Speaks and Center for Vulnerable Populations/UCSF), Alameda County Department of Public Health, Sonoma County Department of Health Services, and the American Heart Association Greater Bay Area Division.

Kimberly Cooper, MA is a writer, activist and former chief of operations for the “Reducing Childhood Obesity” initiative – a partnership between First 5 LA and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. She’s spent nearly 20 years working in project development for entertainment media, nonprofit and community based youth organizations throughout Los Angeles. Her writing has also appeared in Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.


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