June 3, 2020

Sugary drinks, which can contribute to long-term conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, pose a significant challenge to public health. Multiple studies have investigated the effect of warning labels on consumer purchasing and consumption of these beverages. Now a new study by a faculty and alumna team from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has synthesized this research to find that these warnings could significantly reduce the purchase of and intent to consume sugary drinks.

Dr. Marissa Hall

Dr. Marissa Hall

Dr. Anna Grummon

Dr. Anna Grummon

Harvard Bell Fellow and 2019 doctoral alumna in health behavior Anna H. Grummon, PhD, and Marissa G. Hall, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, have published a meta-analysis in PLOS Medicine examining the effects of warning labels on changing behavior, emotions, attitudes, and perceptions.

This follows a study Grummon published in October 2019 on the effects of warning labels on the obesity rate in the United States.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis of the findings of twenty-three experiments conducted across multiple countries. They found that across these experimental studies, sugary drink warnings not only reduced purchases of sugary drinks but also caused stronger emotional responses, increased perceptions that sugary drinks contribute to disease and reduced intentions to purchase or consume sugary drinks. All of these responses are key indicators when it comes to long-term behavior change.

“Our findings suggest that sugary drink warnings help consumers better understand products’ healthfulness and encourage them to make healthier choices about what drinks to buy,” said Grummon.

These results provide evidence that requiring warnings for sugary drinks could be an effective policy strategy for informing consumers and reducing the consumption of sugary drinks.

“Based on these findings, we would recommend that local, state and federal governments consider implementing sugary drink warnings as a promising solution for encouraging healthier diets,” said Hall.

As a next step, the team is studying the best ways to design warnings to maximize their benefits, especially among diverse populations. Considerations might include icons or pictures that help communicate a warning’s message.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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