The Influence of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Warnings - A Randomized Trial of Adolescents’ Choices and Beliefs

In the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Eric VanEpps and Christina Roberto measure the extent to which health-related warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages influence adolescents’ perceptions of different beverages and their choice of beverages. The authors conducted and analyzed an online survey of 2202 demographically diverse adolescents, aged 12-18. Participants were asked to choose a beverage in a hypothetical vending machine task, rate perceptions of different beverages and indicate their interest in coupons for beverages. The participants were randomly assigned to one of six conditions: (1) no warning label; (2) calorie label; (3–6) one of four text versions of a warning label (e.g., SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay). Controlling for frequency of beverage purchases, significantly fewer adolescents chose a sugar-sweetened beverage in three of the four warning label conditions (65%, 63%, and 61%) than in the no label condition (77%). Compared to their peers that weren’t exposed to warning labels, adolescents who had seen the warning labels chose fewer sugar-sweetened beverage coupons and believed that sugar-sweetened beverages were less likely to help them lead a healthy life.