In the study, researchers used an online survey to gauge the beverage selections of more than 2,000 participants aged 12-18 and from diverse backgrounds. The beverages included either no label at all, or one of five warning labels — one featuring calorie content, and four displaying a variation of warning text.
“The average teen consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day, which could account for more than twice the recommended daily serving of sugar. The rate of sugar consumption contributes significantly to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other dangerous and costly health conditions,” said Christina Roberto, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Overall, 77 per cent of participants who saw no label said they would select a sugary drink in a hypothetical choice task.
Depending on the specific phrasing of the warning labels, participants were 8 to 16 per cent less likely to select sugary beverages when health warning labels were present compared to no label.
The authors note that the warning labels also contributed to teenagers’ understanding of the potentially negative effects on health of regularly consuming sugary beverages, with participants viewing the labels indicating they were more likely to understand that these drinks don’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Additionally, the majority of participants (62 per cent) said they would support a warning label policy for sugary drinks.
“The influence of warning labels on the purchasing intentions of teenagers in this study highlights the need for nutrition information at the point of purchase to help people make healthier choices,” said Eric M. VanEpps, researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine signifies implications for policies being considered to require sugary drinks to display health warning labels.
“This study shows that warning labels can affect teenagers’ beverage preferences, and future research will be needed to determine whether these labels are similarly effective in more typical purchasing environments,” VanEpps added.