A new study suggests that warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) could dissuade parents from purchasing these products for children. Christina A. Roberto, et al., “The Influence of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Health Warning Labels on Parents’ Choices,” Pediatrics, February 2016. Based on research involving tobacco warning labels, the study aimed to determine if SSB warning labels could (i) educate consumers about potential “health harms” “above and beyond” existing calorie declarations; (ii) “influence parents’ intentions to buy SSBs for their children”; and (iii) “influence parents’ perceptions and intentions toward nonlabeled beverages.” It also evaluated warning label phrasing and “parents’ beliefs about proposals to put warning labels on SSBs.”

Surveying 2,381 primary caregivers of children ages 6 to 11, researchers randomly assigned parents to one of six conditions: “(1) no warning label (control); (2) calorie label; or (3–6) 1 of 4 text versions of a warning label (eg, Safety Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar[s] contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay).” Parents then “selected a beverage for their child in a vending machine task, rated perceptions of different beverages, and indicated interest in receiving beverage coupons.”

The results evidently showed that “significantly fewer parents chose an SSB for their child in the warning label condition (40%) versus the no label (60%) and calorie label conditions (53%).” Participants in the warning label group “also chose significantly fewer SSB coupons, believed that SSBs were less healthy for their child, and were less likely to intend to purchase SSBs.”