Thanks to their meticulously designed, colorful, and sleek packaging, soft drinks and other sugary beverages cheerfully implore you to grab them off the shelf. And when presented with this appealing façade, the true nature of the high-calorie, blood-sugar spiking liquid within is out of sight and out of mind.
With the obesity epidemic spiraling out of control, public health researchers like Anna Peeters from Deakin University see the value in adding warning labels, similar to those introduced to cigarette packs in the last several years, to remind potential customers of the medical consequences of excessive sugar intake – and prompt them to rethink their choice.
Unsurprisingly, her group’s recent study suggests that labels using graphic imagery are most effective.
In a presentation to the European Congress on Obesity, Peeters shared data from their online experiment that asked nearly 1,000 Australian adult volunteers, aged 18 to 35, to imagine they were purchasing one of 15 beverages options, some sweet and some not.
In images, the drinks were either unlabeled or bore one of four label types: a text warning of the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay; a warning with an image of decayed teeth; a listing of the number of teaspoons of added sugar; or an overall health rating using the Health Star Ratings system currently used on consumable products in Australia and New Zealand. After viewing the options, participants could select one or opt for no drink at all.
According to the Economic Times, Peeters reported that participants (hypothetically) purchased sugary drinks 36 percent less when they featured a graphic label compared to no label.
“While no single measure will reverse the obesity crisis, given that the largest source of added sugars in our diet comes from sugar-sweetened drinks, there is a compelling case for the introduction of front-of-pack labels on sugary drinks worldwide,” Peeters said.
“You are going to get pushback from the industry and possibly the community,” she said. “If you had good social acceptance of graphic warnings, you’d go for that. But if government found that too difficult the other three are pretty good too.”
Two 2016 studies previously showed that text-only warnings reduce sugary beverage selection by both adults and teens.
As of yet, no country or state has implemented any type of warning label on bottles, yet “soda taxes” are increasingly popular worldwide and San Francisco is battling beverage companies in court over their law to mandate warnings on soft drink advertisements.
Though the intense recent focus on controlling sugary beverages may seem odd when there is an entire industry of sugary food, the zealous activity is actually rooted in science.
A new review found that calories from sugary beverages actually impact your health more severely than the same number of calories in solid food.