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Graphic Cigarette-style Packaging For Sugary Drinks Deter Young Adults From Purchase

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A new research presents proof that graphic warnings placed in cans or packages of sugary drinks such as soft drinks may prevent young adults from buying the beverages.

The study, presented at the 2018 European Congress on Obesity, found that individuals aged 18-35 years old were disinclined to purchase sweetened drinks with explicit warnings about tooth decay, obesity, and type-2 diabetes.

Anna Peeters, professor from Deakin University in Australia, said their study highlights that front-of-pack labels, especially when explicit, changed consumer behavior, reduce purchases, and guide people to make healthier choices.

Rotten Teeth Health Warning Scenario

Peeters and his colleagues recruited nearly 1,000 Australians to participate in an online survey. The respondents came from four different districts in Australia and belonged to diverse economic and educational background.

The participants were requested to put themselves in a scenario where they enter a shop or café. They can also imagine themselves going to a vending machine to buy a beverage. They were then asked to buy from 15 choices of both sugary and non-sweetened drinks.

The drinks may contain labels either of the following: a graphic warning showing images of decayed teeth, type-2 diabetes, and obesity; a simple text health warning, sugar information represented by a number of teaspoons, and a Health Star Rating. The latter is a healthy drink labeling system used in Australia and New Zealand to compare drinks with the healthiest ingredients.

Also included in the options were cans with no labels and participants could also choose the "no drink" option if they opt not buy any of the beverages.

Result Of The Survey

The survey showed that participants were far less likely to choose a sugary drink with front-of-pack labels compared to the cans without labels. This behavior was observed across all participants, regardless of their education, age, and socioeconomic background.

The cans with explicit warning labels, however, had the greatest impact on the behavior of the participants. The respondents were 36 percent less likely to choose the cans with graphic warnings compared to cans with no labels.

Interestingly, there was 20 percent who were less likely to purchase a drink when they see the Health Star Rating and another 20 percent who will likely to look for a drink with healthier ingredients when they saw the star ratings.

Finally, 18 percent were less likely to choose the drinks displaying the number of teaspoons of sugar added to the drink.

"[G]iven that the largest source of added sugars in our diet comes from sugar-sweetened drinks, there is a compelling case for the introduction of front-of-pack labels on sugary drinks worldwide," Peeters said.

Graphic Warning Labels On Sugary Drinks In United States

Placing graphics cigarette-style warning on soft drinks was already being proposed in the United States for the past years. The most recent was in 2017 when Democratic state Senator Bill Monning proposed a bill that would compel big soda manufacturers, such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Inc, to put health warnings on their products. At the time, the bill was already reintroduced for the third time. Similar proposed bills had already failed to be passed in 2014 and 2015.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study showing that health warnings on sweetened beverages improved parents' understanding of the harmful effects of too much consumption of sugary drinks. The labels also reduced parents' purchase of the products.

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