Researchers with the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics have authored a study claiming that adolescents are less likely to purchase sugary beverages that carry warning labels. Eric VanEpps and Christina Roberto, “The Influence of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Warnings,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, September 2016.

The study asked 2,202 adolescents ages 12-18 to imagine selecting one of 20 popular 20-ounce beverages from a vending machine. This digital survey included 12 sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) that displayed (i) no warning label, (ii) a calorie label, or (iii) one of four labels warning that SSBs contribute to (a) “obesity, diabetes and tooth decay”; (b) “weight gain, diabetes and tooth decay”; (c) “preventable diseases like obesity, diabetes and tooth decay”; or (d) “obesity, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.”

The results evidently suggested that “77 percent of participants who saw no label said they would select a sugary drink,” but fewer participants chose an SSB in three of the four warning label scenarios. “Calorie labels increased adolescents’ estimates of the calories in SSBs, as did two of four warning labels. Both calorie and warning labels led participants to subjectively evaluate SSBs to have more added sugar,” state the study authors. “Finally, adolescents expressed that government-sponsored SSB warning labels would shift their beliefs about a beverage’s health- fulness and would motivate them to consume fewer SSBs. In addition, the majority of respondents favored a policy to place warning labels on SSBs.” The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Initiative.