What keeps consumers hooked on high-sugar soft drinks? Advertising is, of course, a huge driver. But why are some consumers more adept at ignoring these cues than others?
A new study from Adelaide-based Flinders University, published in Appetite, found participants with an automatic bias towards soft drinks – or difficulty resisting sweet drinks compared to non-sweetened control beverages such as water – were more responsive to the ads than those without these tendencies.
The Australian study compared the ability of 127 university-age students (18-25 year olds) to withstand or succumb to the urge to reach for a soft drink when viewing television advertisements.
Help those with cognitive vulnerabilities to resist temptation
“Perhaps we can then start targeting people who show these cognitive vulnerabilities in [an effort to] reduce consumption of these sugary, unhealthy drinks,” said Flinders University Professor and lead researcher, Eva Kemps.
“Even keeping fizzy drinks from children at a young age may also prepare them for the barrage of advertising as they mature,” commented Kemps, pointing to the rise in soft drink consumption in the face of associated health risks.
“The cognitive vulnerabilities exposed in our study [provide] an important lesson [for] future possible regulation of television advertising, or [creating] public health campaigns,” said co-author Amber Tuscharski.
“More could be done to raise awareness among people who have strong automatic tendencies or poor self-regulatory control towards reaching for a soft drink.
As little as one can daily can cause significant health problems
“After all, their exposure to soft drink cues will continue as manufacturers and marketers advertise their products in multiple locations – from TV commercials to in-store, service stations, public transport and billboards.”
Regular soft drink consumption (as little as one can per day) has been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and various cancers, with one data model estimating the global death toll from soft drink consumption to be around 184,000 deaths per year.
Around the world, the daily caloric intake from soft drinks has quadrupled, from 4% in 1965 to 16% in 2019, with young adults and adolescents the biggest consumers of popular brands of carbonated beverages such as Coke, Sprite and Fanta.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) research estimated 50-60% of adolescent and young people consume soft drink every day.