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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Health Warning Labels Reduce Purchases of Sugary Beverages

A randomized controlled trial from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health finds that even brief exposure to health warnings on sugar-sweetened beverages reduced purchases of those beverages, providing evidence that such warnings promote healthier drink choices.

Dr. Anna Grummon, a recent doctoral graduate of the School’s health behavior department, is lead author of “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Health Warnings and Purchases: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” published online October 2 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Poor diet contributes to chronic health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. As such, policymakers are eyeing strategies that will keep their communities healthy. Lawmakers in California, New York, Vermont and other states have proposed policies to require health warnings on sugary drinks like sodas, sports drinks and sweetened tea, but there has been limited research on whether such warnings would change what consumers buy.

“Our study is one of the first to look at warnings in a more real-world context,” says Dr. Grummon. “We worked in a convenience-store laboratory that allowed us to control whether the sugary drinks had warnings. We are also one of the first studies to measure what consumers actually buy after seeing warnings, when they have their own money on the line.”

Participants in the study’s control arm purchased an average of about 143 calories (about a soda can’s worth) from sugary beverages. Participants in the health warning arm purchased only about 110 calories. The study also found that the warnings were influential across diverse groups.

These results should clarify for policymakers that warning labels on sugary drinks would be effective in promoting healthier choices, says Dr. Grummon.

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