A new study in the US has shown that warnings about the unhealthy effects of sugar can, and do, steer people away from sugary drinks.
Similar to the warnings on cigarette packets, there’s a growing movement in America to have health labelling on certain products about the dangers of sugar.
In a recently published article Christina Roberto, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, and her team generated sugar-warning labels and attached them to beverages that they then showed to a group of 2,381 parents in an online survey.
Here are some points from an article on the study:
- The parents, mostly mothers, saw either no labels (these were the controls), labels that noted the calories from the drinks, or one of three different warnings that basically alerted them to the fact that drinking beverages with added sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
- The drinks represented a wide array of popular beverages, from water to sugared sodas to fruit juices and sweetened teas.
- The parents who saw the warning labels were on average 20% less likely to choose a sugared drink for their children when asked to pick what they would serve their children from a vending machine-like simulation.
- There was no difference between the controls and those who saw the calorie information only, suggesting that the sugar information may be more salient for the parents than the calorie counts.
- Roberto, who published her findings in the journal Pediatrics, admits that the conditions were a bit artificial—the parents were asked to make a hypothetical choice based on images of drinks they saw on a screen. But since none of the sugar warnings are yet a reality, this was the only way they could simulate how parents might react to them. She plans to study the effect of such warnings wherever they might first go into effect.
- She’s confident that the 20% difference she recorded wasn’t due primarily to the parents trying to please the researchers and avoid the sweeter drinks with warning labels because that’s what they thought they were supposed to do.
This study seems to suggest that – similar to smoking – warning labels could be a powerful tool to help parents make educated choices when it comes to food for their families.
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