Study Predicts Health Warning Labels on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Would Decrease Likelihood of Parents Purchasing Them for Their Kids

    • January 14, 2016
Parents are less likely to choose a sugary drink for children when warning labels are in place.

Princeton, N.J.—Parents who participated in an online survey were 20 percentage points less likely to say they would choose a sugar-sweetened beverage for their kids if they viewed a health warning label on its packaging than those who did not view a warning label, according to a study published by Pediatrics. Forty percent of participating parents said they would choose a sugar-sweetened beverage for their kids after viewing a warning label, compared to 60 percent of participating parents who saw no label. The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through its Healthy Eating Research program, also concluded that health warning labels may reduce parents’ perception of the healthfulness of sugar-sweetened beverages and the ability of these beverages to boost kids’ energy and focus. Additionally, the labels may increase parents’ understanding of their child’s risk of weight gain, heart disease and diabetes from consuming these drinks.

The study, among the first to examine the influence of sugar-sweetened beverage warning labels, tested the effects, via an online survey of 2,381 parents, of five different labels—one which displayed calorie content and four which displayed variations of warning text—in addition to a control group who saw no warning label.


Researchers found that there were minimal differences in the effects produced by the four different variations of the warning labels. However, all four of the warning labels proved to have a more powerful impact than the calorie version. Fifty-three percent of parents who saw just the calorie label said they would choose a sugar-sweetened beverage for their kids compared to the 40 percent of parents who said they would choose a sugar-sweetened beverage for their kids after viewing the health warning labels.

“This study suggests that sugar-sweetened beverage warning labels could play an important role in educating parents and may motivate them to buy fewer sugary drinks for their children,” said Christina Roberto, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the study’s lead author. “This shows policymakers and the public health community that warning labels could be an effective approach to reducing children’s consumption of sugary beverages.”

The study also evaluated consumer support for sugar-sweetened beverage warning labels and found that nearly 75 percent of parents who participated in this study overall support them, with strong support from Republicans (73%), Independents (66%) and Democrats (79%).

“Sugar-sweetened beverages are the top source of added sugar in Americans’ diets and cutting their consumption, especially among our youngest children, is critical if we want to ensure that all kids grow up at a healthy weight,” said John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director, RWJF. “Parents want their children to have nutritious foods and beverages, but it’s essential that we give them the information they need to make healthier choices about what they buy and feed their kids. This study shows that health warning labels can be one part of the solution.”

The sample for this study comprised 2,381 parents of a child between six to 11 years old with a large proportion of racial and ethnic minority participants who tend to have the highest obesity rates in the United States. The sample also represented a range of education levels. Participants were recruited through Survey Sampling International.

There is a large body of research that reveals health warning labels on tobacco products are associated with increased consumer knowledge of the risks associated with tobacco usage and that large, comprehensive warning labels have helped promote smoking cessation and may prevent smoking initiation among youth.



Healthy Eating Research is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program supports research on environmental and policy strategies with strong potential to promote healthy eating among children to prevent obesity, especially among lower-income and racial and ethnic populations at highest risk for obesity. For more information, visit


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