Health Warning Labels Correct Parents' Misperceptions About Sugary Drink Options

ABSTRACT [FROM JOURNAL]

Introduction: Noncarbonated sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened teas are increasingly promoted to and consumed by youth. These beverages may be perceived as healthier options than soda. To educate consumers about beverages high in added sugar, several cities and states have proposed policies mandating health warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Methods: In 2015, a total of 2,381 parents were randomized to a no label, calorie label, or warning label condition. An online survey asked about the healthfulness of different beverages, and asked parents to select a beverage for their child in a choice task. Regressions compared the warning and calorie label groups to the control group and measured mediating effects of health beliefs on beverage choice. Data were analyzed in 2016.

Results: Parents viewed fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened teas as healthier and less likely to cause disease than soda. Compared with no label, warning labels significantly increased parents' risk perceptions for all beverages except soda. Warning labels significantly reduced the odds of selecting fruit drinks for the child (OR=0.42, 95% CI=0.32, 0.56), and this effect was mediated by changes in health beliefs and risk perceptions.

Conclusions: Fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened teas are increasingly promoted to youth. Parents believe these beverages are healthier and less likely to cause disease than soda, and warning labels may correct these misperceptions.