Is it time for graphic warning labels on sugary drinks?


  • Dawn O'Shea
  • Univadis Medical News
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Graphic warning labels on sugary drinks may reduce consumption of these products, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Business School.

In a field study conducted in a hospital cafeteria, researchers found that graphic warning labels linking sugary drink consumption with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay, were associated with a substantial drop in purchases of sugary beverages.

Three different types of labels were used - text warnings, graphic warnings about the health risks of sugary drinks, and listings of the caloric value of the drinks. The labelled drinks were displayed near bottled and fountain beverages.

The findings showed that during the weeks when the graphic warnings were displayed, the share of sugar-sweetened beverages purchased in the cafeteria declined by 14.8 per cent. Consumers appeared to substitute bottled water for sugary drinks. The average calories per drink sold during the period decreased from 88 calories to 75. The text warnings and calorie labels did not have a significant effect on beverage purchasing.

While graphic warning labels for tobacco products have become commonplace, this is the first study to evaluate the effectiveness of sugary drink warning labels in the field.