five million Latinos calling Los Angeles County home, Los Angeles is an ideal
case study for the role sugary drinks play in health outcomes. Unfortunately, the
issue of sugary drink consumption is a key health behavior contributing locally
to poor health outcomes (United
States Census). The
overconsumption of sugary drinks leads to chronic diseases such as heart
disease, obesity, tooth decay and type 2 diabetes.
Research shows that Latino children consume more sugary drinks than their non-Latino counterparts (Sugary Drinks Research: Latino Kids’ Consumption Rates). In fact, some infants as young as six months old are drinking sugary drinks and studies suggest that by the age of two, most Latino children have consumed some type of sugary drink . This news is alarming because children who are exposed to sugary drinks at an early age may be influenced to drink more sugary drinks instead of water (Park, Pan, Sherry, Li, 2014). Examining Latino behaviors around sugary drinks consumption is important, but so too is examining the messages which influence their behaviors.
The food and beverage industry disproportionately targets their sugary drink products to Latino communities. In 2018 alone, the industry spent $83.9 million on Spanish-language TV advertising on sugary drinks (UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, 2020). These sugary drink commercials often use soccer athletes, Latino music celebrities and other cultural influencers that appeal to young Latinos (Salud America, 2016).
While kids see close to a dozen food ads on TV a day (and most of those ads are for sugary drinks, like fruit drinks, sport drinks energy drinks and soda), it’s not the only place industry targets them. Kids see and hear sugary drink marketing in movies, on the radio, on social media platforms and in magazines (Voices for Healthy Kids, 2018). Early introduction of these sugary drinks not only influences Latino youth’s taste preferences for sugar now, but also makes them crave them later in their lives (Sugary Drink Facts, 2011).
So, what does this mean for LA County? Unsurprisingly, sugary drink consumption is not equitable across the county; it’s higher among the most densely Latino populated areas of the county. Service Planning Area 5 (West) which includes cities such as Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades and is 64% White sees 21.7% of adult residents and 14.3% of children consume at least one sugary drink daily (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 2017). Compare this to Service Planning Area 7 (East) where the demographic shifts to 73.5% Latino and is comprised of cities such as East LA, Huntington Park and Vernon, daily sugary drinks consumption is reported by 40.3% of adults and 45.3% of children (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 2017).
While there have been many local efforts to curb sugary drink consumption, the beverage industry has refused to give up tactics targeting Latino communities and is determined to retain their purchasing power in some way. With recent public health efforts and changes in demand from consumers who want less sugar in their diets, the beverage industry in 2015 made the calculated move to commit to reducing calories from sugary drinks among their customers by 20% within a decade. The distributors of sugar drinks predictably and strategically launched their campaign in four East Area communities of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and East Los Angeles ensuring their continued presence within these communities. It’s no surprise that these four communities are predominantly Latino.
The saying is “so goes California, so goes the country.” The effects of sugary drink consumption in California Latino communities is an indicator of its impacts nationwide.
The American Heart Association – Greater Los Angeles is proud to work to end sugarcoating our future and provide Latino families more healthy choices in their communities. It hopes to extend this work to the state level, and like the quote goes, eventually to the nation.
Amanda Staples, Community Advocacy Director, American Heart Association
Ana-Alicia Carr, Community Impact Director, American Heart Association
Denise Aranda, Community Impact Intern, American Heart Association
Lizette Mendez, Community Impact Intern, American Heart Association
 Sugary Drinks Research: Latino Kids’ Consumption Rates. Salud America. https://salud-america.org/sugary-drinks-research-latino-kids-consumption-rates/
 US Census 2010, projections using 2014 at www.census.gov/population/projections