Surprising Suggestions From Teens
Sarah Theodore  
All eyes this month seem to be on teenagers and their drinking habits — not underage alcohol consumption as is usually the concern, but their choice of refreshment beverage.
Recently, two very different reports surfaced concerning teens and their beverage choices. The Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration for warning labels on soft drinks, citing government data from 1999 to 2002 that says teens are drinking more soft drinks than ever before. But BuzzBack Market Research’s 2005 Teen Health & Nutrition Survey reports today’s adolescents tend to chose bottled water, fruit juice, tap water and milk (in that order) before they chose soft drinks.
CSPI says teenage boys who drink soft drinks consume an average of three cans per day and girls two cans per day, for nearly 15 percent of their total calories. But BuzzBack says teens are interested in healthy products and would like to see more, including “healthier sodas that taste good.” Nearly 30 percent said they are concerned with eating right, and only 5 percent said they are not worried about their health.
CSPI would like the FDA to require a rotating series of health notices on soft drinks that would say “The U.S. Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay, and other health problems;” “To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water;” and “Drinking soft drinks instead of milk or calcium-fortified beverages may increase your risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis).”
The American Beverage Association’s new president, Susan Neely, responded to the CSPI proposal, saying, “To ask the FDA for warning labels on soft drinks, or any food products that contain caloric sweeteners, patronizes consumers and lacks common sense.”
The responses from teens themselves seem to back that sentiment. These kids sound pretty aware of what they are drinking and appear to want healthier beverages available to them (hint, hint, all you product developers). And if there is anything teens hate, it’s being patronized.  
Perhaps the discrepancies between the two reports lies in their timing. CSPI’s data is several years old at this point. Is it possible teens are making different choices these days? According to BuzzBack, more than half of respondents said they have changed their diets during the past year and are eating healthier foods. Females and Hispanic teens are the most likely to be concerned with weight. Along with African Americans, Hispanic teens report they struggle with healthy eating, indicating the differences that still lie along ethnic lines and the complexity of diet and social issues.  
The report also says teens are receptive to change and love trying new products — nearly two-thirds have tried a new snack or beverage within the past year. The report includes verbatim comments from respondents, which includes a 16-year-old Caucasian male who said he’d like to see “A drink that contains five servings of fruits and vegetables;” a 16-year-old African American female who said she’d like, “A smoothie where you could get all the nutrients you need, that tastes good, helps you stay in shape, and is good for you;” and an 18-year-old male who said he’d like to see “A breakfast shake for teens — something easy, tastes good — not necessarily for dieters like Slim Fast, etc. Something to balance you off in the morning.”
Those sound like pretty good choices to me, and not the ideas of people gorging themselves on “liquid candy” as the CSPI’s petition would suggest. BI
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