Health warnings on sugary beverages may improve understanding of health risks: Study

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Will warning labels help parents make better soft drink choices?
Will warning labels help parents make better soft drink choices?

Related tags Health

Placing a health warning label on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) may help parents better understand what overconsumption of these beverages may mean for their children, a recent study found.

The study​, titled The Influence of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Health Warning Labels on Parents’ Choices​, was published by Pediatrics. Researchers said its aim was to look at how labels may influence the purchasing decisions of parents, as there have been bills introduced by multiple US states calling for these health warning labels.

In the explanation for why the researchers undertook this study, they wrote that tobacco text warnings increased the perception of risk of use of these products. Few studies have investigated this for SSBs, but they believed these labels could be useful for consumer education.

The study was commissioned by Healthy Eating Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Warning label may mean better choices

Researchers looked at 2,381 “demographically and educationally diverse” ​parents to participate in an online survey. Parents were, at random, given one of six conditions, including no warning label, a calorie label or four different versions of a text warning label.

A beverage was chosen for their child in a vending machine-like setting. Parents then rated their perception of different beverages and indicated their level of interest in receiving coupons for beverages they saw in the machine.

Analyzing results of the study, the researchers looked at comparisons between no warnings on the beverage, a calorie label group and all other warning groups combined.

“Significantly fewer parents chose [a] SSB for their child in the warning label condition (40%) versus the no label (60%) and calorie label conditions (53%),” ​the study said. “Parents in the warning label condition also chose significantly fewer SSB coupons, believed that SSBs were less healthy for their child, and were less likely to intend to purchase SSBs.”

Researchers said there was no consistent difference found between the efficiencies of various versions of the warning labels.

Is there support?

Researchers said putting warning labels on SSBs “exerted powerful effects” relative to no label or calorie-centric labels. They led parents to believe these beverages were much less healthy and more likely to increase their child’s chance of diabetes, weight loss and disease.

In addition, researchers found that the education level of the consumer was barely a factor when parents were picking a SSB with a warning label for their children.

When it came to support, researchers said 73.3% were in favor of a SSB warning label policy while 5.7% opposed it. Warning labels had strong support among Democrats at 79.2%, Republicans at 72.9% and Independents at 66%.

“As predicted, calorie labels increased parents’ ability to estimate the calories in SSBs as did warning labels, but to a lesser extent,”​ researchers wrote in the discussion section of the study. “However, warning labels led parents to judge SSBs to have more added sugar. Analyses of beverages that did not [qualify] for a warning label suggested that SSB warning labels are unlikely to have spillover effects, either positively or negatively, on judgments of nonlabeled drinks.”

Source Pediatrics

The Influence of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Health Warning Labels on Parents’ Choices

C. Roberto, D. Wong, A. Musicus, D. Hammond

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