Warning labels on drinks can discourage would-be buyers, and could help lower the heavy intake of such harmful beverages among children and adolescents.
This was the conclusion of a study which appeared on Thursday, January 14 in the journal Pediatrics. Research was conducted by a team of experts, coordinated by Christina Roberto, main investigator at the Psychology of Eating and Consumer Health (PEACH) laboratory.
A group of 2,381 parents took part in the trial, which unfolded online. The volunteers were required to opt for a drink that they would purchase for their offspring, having to choose between 20 distinct pictures.
12 of the photos showed sugary beverages, while the other 8 depicted drinks that were either unsweetened or had a very low amount of added sugars.
For the experiment, the sugar-filled juices and sodas had 4 different kinds of labels. One type of packaging included a safety warning specifying that such beverages can increase the prevalence of obesity, cavities and type 2 diabetes.
The second variety of label contained the same message, but also mentioned that these are all conditions that could be avoided by adopting healthier habits.
The third type of packaging didn’t include any health notice, simply listing the amount of calories that the drink contained, while the last category presented no such information whatsoever.
It was determined that, regardless of their academic background, when parents had to make a selection without receiving any type of advisory note, they were approximately 60% more inclined to purchase a beverage with added sugar.
However, when they were presented with such warnings, the likelihood of opting for sweetened drinks dropped to around 40%.
Astonishingly, prominently featuring the amount of calories that each beverage contained had little impact on the choices, participants not appearing to be more inclined to opt for low-calorie products and instead selecting a sugary beverage around 53% of the time.
As study authors point out, the results of this online experiment are baffling for several reasons.
First of all, many food manufacturers and fast food restaurant chains have introduced calorie icons on their products, under the false impression that such labeling would help consumers turn to healthier options, avoiding calorie-rich items.
It now appears that these efforts have been misguided, since actual buyers often disregard the amount of calories they consume on a daily basis.
Another puzzling aspect is that there was such a statistically significant difference when sweetened beverages were accompanied by warning labels. While researchers expected some changes in buying patterns, they didn’t imagine they would be so tremendous.
Based on these findings, they now recommend that drinks containing added sugars should feature packaging similar to that pertaining to cigarettes, alerting consumers regarding the dangers associated with these products.
Nowadays, approximately two-thirds of all American kids in the 2-11 age bracket have at least one 6.5-ounce sweetened beverage per day, the equivalent of 7 teaspoons filled with sugar, and double the maximum recommended daily intake.
This habit, especially when coupled with an inordinately sedentary lifestyle, makes them susceptible to a wide variety of health problems, including obesity, tooth decay and diabetes.
While adults may be aware that soda drinks should be best avoided, they seldom realize that apparently healthy beverages such as fruit juices and ice teas are actually just as harmful.
Although it seems that safety warnings might deter parents from opting for such drinks, now study authors believe that further research should be conducted in order to test this hypothesis more conclusively.
As they explain, their recent trial does have certain drawbacks, such as the fact that consumer choices in real life might be entirely different, given that parents sometimes purchase things just to appease their children, or they disregard labels due to their preoccupation with more pressing matters.
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