Pictorial warnings may discourage parents from buying sugary drinks for children, study says

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A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that parents were less likely to purchase sugary drinks for their children when products displayed warning labels of type 2 diabetes or heart damage compared to when the drinks included no warning.

The study was led by Marissa Hall, PhD, and published in PLOS Medicine. It tasked 325 parents of children aged two to 12 years old with choosing a drink and snack for their child in addition to a household item in a naturalistic store laboratory. The participants were split randomly into two groups. One group shopped in an area of the store that displayed pictorial labels with warnings of diabetes and heart damage on sugary drinks. The other group, the control, shopped in an area where sugary drinks did not display any health warnings. Researchers observed whether the parents purchased sugary drinks for their children as well as their attitudes and intentions of serving sugary drinks to their child after shopping in the lab.

The study suggested that parents in the group with pictorial health warnings were less likely to purchase sugary drinks compared to parents who were not shown health warnings. Results showed 45 percent of the control group bought sugary drinks for their children, whereas only 28 percent of parents shown health warnings purchased the sugary drinks. In addition, the pictorial warnings caused parents to purchase drinks with fewer calories. Participants shown health warnings purchased drinks with an average of 52kcal. The control group bought drinks with an average of 82kcal. Warnings also led parents to have fewer intentions of serving sugary drinks to their children, increased feelings of control over healthy decisions, lower perceived healthfulness of the drinks, and a stronger intent to limit their children’s sugary drink intake, according to the study.

This study indicates that pictorial health warnings may be an effective tool in limiting the purchases of sugary drinks. The study’s authors suggested that future investigations should observe the long-term effects that pictorial health warnings have on parents buying sugary drinks for their children, as well as their effect on rates of diet-related chronic diseases. This study is prevalent to the integrative community because it offers a possible solution to reduce the purchases, and therefore consumption of sugary drinks in children which could lead to decreased health risks.