By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Health-related warning labels could impact whether adolescents buy sugary drinks, according to a study released this week that looked at kids’ hypothetical choices after being exposed to the labels.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the online study included 2,202 demographically diverse children 12 to 18 years old. Overall, participants were more than 15 percent less likely to say they would buy a sugar-sweetened beverage after seeing the health warning on packaging than those who saw no warning label.
“These results suggest that SSB warning labels are a promising strategy to reduce adolescents’ perceptions of SSBs’ healthfulness and decrease adolescents’ likelihood of buying” the drinks, the study, published Thursday, concluded.
The research, conducted by the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that as few as 61 percent of participants said they would purchase a sugary drink after viewing a warning label, compared to 77 percent who would buy one without seeing a label.
The kids were randomly assigned several categories – no warning label for the control group; a label about calories; and one of four labels that warned that drinking beverages with added sugars contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Then, they were asked to make hypothetical buying choices, rate their perception of the drinks and indicate their interest in receiving drink coupons.
Added sugars in food and drinks has become a growing topic of concern and debate among in public health and civic circles around the country. Some of the debate has spilled over into legislative proposals to require warning labels on sugary beverages.
Last summer, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance, which is now being challenged in federal court, restricting ads for sugar-sweetened beverages and requiring health warnings on some ads. The Baltimore City Council is considering a similar measure.
State legislatures in California, New York, Vermont, Hawaii and Washington have considered, but so far have failed to pass, legislation over the past year to require health-related warning labels on individual beverage packaging.
Recent surveys have found that 77 percent of American adolescents drink sugar-sweetened beverages each day. Research has linked the consumption to weight gain, cavities and the risk of obesity in adulthood.
A few weeks ago, the American Heart Association released its first-ever scientific statement recommending specific sugar limits for kids, including the recommendations that children and teens should drink no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages a week.
Those recommendations, published in the journal Circulation, said kids ages 2 to 18 should consume less than 6 teaspoons of “added sugars” a day.
“The average teen in the United States consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day, which could account for more than twice the recommended daily serving of sugar,” the study’s lead author, Christina Roberto, said in a news release. She is assistant professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “The rate of sugar consumption in the U.S. is astounding and contributes significantly to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other dangerous and costly health conditions.”
Roberto also was lead author in a similar study released in Pediatrics in January that focused on parents and used similar labels and hypothetical choices. It concluded labels made a difference whether or not they choose sugary drinks for their children.
That study surveyed 2,381 demographically and educationally diverse parents. Forty percent of participants who saw a warning label then said they would choose a sugary drink for their children – compared to 60 percent who saw no label. The study concluded that health warning labels may reduce parents’ perception of the healthfulness of sugar-sweetened beverages and their ability to boost kids’ energy and focus.
“The present research is among the first to examine the influence of SSB warning labels and provides timely data on the potential for such labels to educate adolescents and reduce SSB intake,” according to the recent study. “This study provides preliminary support for placing warning labels on SSBs, setting the stage for future research to identify their impact on overall dietary choices in different settings.”