A new study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that health warning labels on sugary drinks may prevent parents from buying them for their children. The findings were published Thursday in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was based in proposed bills being currently under consideration in New York and California that would require sugary beverages to feature labels stating: “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

San Francisco has passed a law but it has not gone into effect yet. The health warning labels on sugary drinks would be similar to tobacco warning labels in the United States and many other nations.

Photo: America Al Jazeera
Photo: America Al Jazeera

“We are trying to make a link between the high sugar content and the calories and the actual downstream outcomes [of sugary drinks]. You can say that something has 18 or 24 grams of sugar, but most people have no clue what a gram is,” commented lead author David Hammond, professor in the school of public health at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He said he supported advertisements including health warning labels because they provide extra information that parents can understand easily.

Researchers divided the study participants into three groups: parents whose drinks options featured health warning labels on the front of the bottle, parents who saw a calorie label on the front of the bottle – these labels are voluntarily displayed on bottles and cans by beverage companies in the U.S) –, and parents whose choices did not display any health or calorie warning labels.

Parents were less likely to select a sugary drink for their kid if those drinks featured health warning labels. Forty percent of parents who saw those labels chose the sugary drink, compared to 53 percent of the participants who saw the calorie label and 60 percent of those parents whose options had no labels.

The research team designed online surveys in which 2,381 parents chose a beverage they would buy for their child. The study participants had 20 choices, including 12 options such as sodas and juice drinks that were classified as sugar-sweetened because they had more than 75 calories from extra sugars. Water, juices and diet sodas completed the eight other drinks.

Hammond said the AAP’s study suggests health warning labels may encourage policy makers to pass these bills, as they may help decrease the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. The study involved parents whose children were aged 6 to 11, a particularly worrisome group because sugary foods and drinks train their bodies from a young age to long for sweets, Hammond explained. He called attention to the fact that parents are responsible for sugar-related health issues in their children, because most kids do not usually walk into a store to buy their own drinks.

Health warning labels on sugary drinks would certainly help raise awareness about sugar consumption from an early age. However, these labels could have the opposite effect on other age groups such as teenagers who may be attracted to drinks that are bad for them, according to Sara Folta, assistant professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She said further research was required in order to study the consequences health warning labels may have on other segments of the population.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics