Scientists from Harvard and the University of North Carolina had a thought—what if unhealthy, sugary snack items were coupled with photos similar to the ones we see on cigarette packs and tobacco? You know, instead of a blackened lung, a sugary beverage would also carry the image of a diseased heart, which is correlated to the consumption of such drinks. Would that make people—and in particular parents—think twice about buying it for their kids?
The researchers decided to put their idea to the test and last week, their study was published in PLOS Medicine. To test out the effect of these images, the scientists separated parents into two groups. One group browsed through a store filled with items that came with warning images about diabetes, heart disease, and increased risk from drinking too much sugar. The control group only had a barcode.
The results? The parents who saw the warning images didn’t buy as many sodas for their children as the control group did.
“Pictorial warnings reduced parents’ purchases of sugary drinks for their children,” was the study authors’ conclusion. “Warnings on sugary drinks are a promising policy approach to reduce sugary drink purchasing in the US.”
The authors go on to write that “pictorial warnings on tobacco products are promising for motivating behavior change, but few studies have examined pictorial warnings for sugary drinks,” even though, like cigarettes, consuming too much sugar comes with well established health risks.
Children in the US consume far more than the recommended levels of sugary drinks, the study authors declare, and this increases their risk of a plethora of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle to implementing this useful and life-saving change may be the US government itself. This is because the US sugar industry is heavily subsidized by the government, which means that most consumers find processed, sugary foods and drinks more economical and more accessible to purchase instead of healthy items.
Source study: PLOS Medicine – The impact of pictorial health warnings on purchases of sugary drinks for children: A randomized controlled trial