Putting graphic images and warnings about the risks of type 2 diabetes and dental problems on sugary drink labels could steer young people towards healthier options, researchers suggest.
Scientists at Deakin University say images of rotten teeth could put consumers off sugar-sweetened beverages, replicating the example of graphic health warnings which have long appeared on cigarette packets.
They say their research, which will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, Austria, represents a “compelling” case for labelling on sweetened drinks.
Lead author Professor Anna Peeters and colleagues made the conclusion after studying the responses of 1,000 Australians, aged 18-35, who were asked to pick from a total of 15 sugar-sweetened and unsweetened beverages.
The sweetened drinks were either not labelled or had one of four labels: one depicting rotten teeth, another carrying a written health warning, another detailing sugar content in teaspoons, and another carrying a health rating.
The label warnings included: “Warning: Drinking drinks with added sugar contributes to obesity, Type Two diabetes and tooth decay”.
A total of 36% said they would be less inclined to buy the sweetened beverage with the graphic image on compared with buying a drink not containing a label.
The findings also showed that 18% were less likely to purchase a drink with details about the teaspoons of sugar content, while 20% were more likely to go for healthier alternatives if Health Star Ratings were on show, compared to the group whose drinks did not have labels. Health Star Ratings are used in Australia and New Zealand on food products.
Prof Peeters said: “The question now is what kind of impact these labels could have on the obesity epidemic. While no single measure will reverse the obesity crisis given that the largest source of added sugars in our diet comes from sugar-sweetened drinks, there is a compelling case for the introduction of front-of-pack labels on sugary drinks worldwide.”
Prof Peeters added that people found the graphic images “revolting and frightening and shocking”, while the labels with just wording did not have as much impact.
“All the different label types have the potential to reduce the intended choice of sugary drinks among young adults,” she said. “It seems to men, in the comprehensive package of things we have to do to reduce sugary drink consumptio, this is likely to be one useful mechanism.”

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