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Sugary Drink Warning Labels Show Promising Effect


According to a new study, parents who saw a warning label on a sugary drink are less likely to select that drink for their child by 20 percentage points. This research comes at a time when California and New York City are considering warning labels on sugary drinks in order to educate consumers on the negative health impacts of added sugars. The study published in Pediatrics and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through its Healthy Eating Research program demonstrates parents would benefit from simple, clear messages on sugary drinks.

Researchers conducted an online survey of 2,381 parents using multiple warning labels to see which one may be most effective compared to a control group with no warning label. The survey showed all the warning labels were more effective in motivating a healthy beverage choice than no warning label. The warning labels included messages such as “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.” These beverages include fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks and sodas.

 “Parents want their children to have nutritious foods and beverages, but it’s essential that we give them the information they need to make healthier choices about what they buy and feed their kids,” said John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director, RWJF in a press release. “This study shows that health warning labels can be one part of the solution.”

The American Heart Association supports the warning label bills in California and New York City to further evaluate if similar impact will be seen among larger populations. Warning labels applied to sugary drinks as public health education on the risks of a product is a new area for research. This survey research is an important beginning and additional research, in particular research focused on-the-ground implementation, will be needed to determine the impact of these warning messages on consumer behavior and purchasing, industry response and practice, and health outcomes.

“We welcome this new research on the potential impact of warning labels on sugary drinks to support our efforts to curb sugary drink consumption and reduce the risk of heart disease,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “What we know is added sugars are contributing to heart disease and diabetes and what we need to understand are the most effective policy approaches to turn this around.”

What advocates need to know:

  • This research indicates parents are less likely to purchase a sugary drink for their child with a visible warning label.
  • Parents viewing warning labels may have an increased understanding of the health impact of sugary drinks.
  • This kind of research is critical to identifying promising and innovate obesity prevention policies.

Sugary drinks are the largest single source of added sugars in the American diet and that added sugars increase the risk of dying from heart disease. Helping to understand how to best help consumers decrease sugary drink consumption is needed to prevent disease and death.