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Pictorial Health Warnings Reduce Purchase of Sugary Drinks: Study

Research suggests that policies requiring pictorial health warnings on sugary drinks could reduce purchases of these products. The trial, in a naturalistic store setting, found parents bought fewer sugary drinks when products displayed pictorial warnings about type 2 diabetes or heart damage, as compared with barcode labels.

Assistant Professor Marissa G Hall, PhD., 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. They were asked to choose a drink and a snack for their child, plus a household item in a laboratory set out as though a naturalistic store. The intervention group had pictorial health warnings about type 2 diabetes or heart disease displayed on drinks, while the control group had barcode labels.

In the control group, 45% of parents bought a sugary drink for their child, compared to 28% in the pictorial warning group. Calories from purchased sugary drinks were also reduced, with an average of 82 kcal for controls compared to 52 kcal in 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.

“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,” study co-author Lindsey Smith Taillie said.

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