The use of warning labels on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) is considered by UK and US governments as a possible intervention to help tackle excess sugar consumption. Evidence for the impact of warning labels comes from their use on tobacco products, which suggests that both text- and image-based warnings can affect a range of effectiveness outcomes, including cessation-related behaviours. But comparatively little evidence exists on the impact of warning labels on food or beverages.
A new online study indicates that placing image-based warning labels on SSBs reduced their selection by participating parents choosing a drink for their children. The study, published in Preventive Medicine Reports on 23rd October 2018 by Dr Eleni Mantzari and colleagues at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit and the Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, tested for the impact of various warning labels.
The labels we assessed contained each of two image-based warnings: an image depicting disease caused by excess sugar consumption (rotting teeth) or an image illustrating beverage sugar content (number of teaspoons of sugar in drink), presented with or without calorie information”.
– Dr Eleni Mantzari, Research Associate at BHRU
During the study, 2002 parents viewed a selection of sugary and non-sugary drinks online, presented either without a label, a calorie information label or an image-based warning with or without calorie information and were asked to choose one for their child to consume.
The proportion of parents selecting a sugary drink was lower when the drinks were presented with an image-based warning, compared to when no label or just calorie information were used. The most effective label included the image of the rotting teeth.
The study indicates that image-based warning labels, especially those illustrating the health consequences of excess sugar consumption, have the potential to reduce the selection of SSBs by parents for their children. Further research in the form of field studies is needed to assess the impact of labels containing image-based warnings and calorie information on SSB selection and consumption in real-life settings.
Read the paper
‘Impact of warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages on parental selection: An online experimental study’ E Mantzari, M Vasiljevic, I Turney, M Pilling, T Marteau. Preventive Medicine Reports 23 October 2018
Contact: Lucy Lloyd