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Food & Drink

Study: Cigarette-style health warnings could slash sugary drink sales

Researcher said: “This evidence supports strong, front-of-package warnings to reduce sugary drink consumption in children.”



By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Graphic cigarette packet-style pictures warning of the health dangers of obesity on fizzy pop and fruit juice would slash sugary drink sales, suggests a new study.

Scientists set up a mini supermarket inside a lab to see what effect such images would have on the buying patterns of parents.

Their findings, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, showed that moms and dads bought fewer sugary drinks when products displayed pictorial warnings about type 2 diabetes or heart damage, as compared with barcode labels.

The study is the first to examine in a realistic setting whether pictorial health warnings on sugary drinks influence which products parents buy for their children.


The American research teams said that it suggests that policies requiring pictorial health warnings on sugary drinks could reduce purchases of the products.

Many children consume more than the recommended levels of sugary drinks, increasing their risk of several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Previous research has found that text warnings can reduce sugary drink consumption, but the effects of pictorial warnings remain largely uninvestigated.

Lead author Dr. Marissa Hall and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill randomly assigned 325 parents of children aged two to 12 to an intervention arm or control arm and asked them to choose a drink and a snack for their child plus a household item in the lab-based "mini-mart."


The intervention group had pictorial health warnings about type 2 diabetes or heart disease displayed on drinks, while controls had barcode labels.

In the control group 45 percent of parents bought a sugary drink for their child, compared to 28 percent in the pictorial warning group.

Calories from purchased sugary drinks were also reduced, with an average of 82 calories for controls compared to 52 calories for the pictorial warnings group.

Parents in the intervention arm reported thinking more about their decision and the impacts of sugary drinks as well as lower intentions to serve sugary drinks to their child.

Corresponding author Dr. Lindsey Smith Taillie, a nutrition epidemiologist, said: "We created this store because we saw a major need for research that tests the impact of policies in a food store setting that is much more realistic.

"When people make choices about what food to buy, they are juggling dozens of factors like taste, cost, and advertising and are looking at many products at once.

“Showing that warnings can cut through the noise of everything else that’s happening in a food store is powerful evidence that they would help reduce sugary drink purchases in the real world.”

Dr. Hall said: “We think the paper could be useful for policymakers in the US and globally.

“This evidence supports strong, front-of-package warnings to reduce sugary drink consumption in children.”

Dr. Taillie added: “Kids consume too many sugary drinks, increasing their risk of a variety of health problems, from dental caries to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

"We know from tobacco control research that warnings that include images are effective for reducing consumption.

"Our study is one of the first to show that this type of policy works for sugary drinks, too. This data provides evidence to support policies to require strong front-of-package warnings as a strategy to reduce children’s intake of sugary drinks.”

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