Sugar is the new tobacco. For years, the side effects of excess sugar consumption have stayed under the radar of the Department of Health. Now, it’s finally under scrutiny, since being identified as a contributing factor to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and preventable tooth decay – in Australia and the rest of the world.
The front-of-pack label experiment
Taking their cue from tobacco “front-of-pack” health labelling, researchers from Deakin University wanted to find out if a similar approach could work with consumers of sugary drinks. In their recent study, the researchers asked 1000 participants, aged 18-35 years old, to select from a range of sugary and unsweetened beverages with or without health labels.
While the unsweetened beverages had no labels, the sugary ones had health labels that included front-of-pack graphic/text warnings, the number of teaspoons of added sugar and/or a Health Star Rating.
The Australian researchers found that participants felt dissuaded to choose a sugary drink with a front-of-pack health label or a low Health Star Rating – for health reasons.
Front-of-pack graphic warning labels had the greatest impact – with 36% of participants saying they were less likely to a sugary drink with one. Health Star Ratings labels scored 20%, while “number of teaspoons of added sugar” labels scored 18%.
Time for action
The lead author of the study, Prof. Anna Peeters, stated that front-of-pack health labelling on sugary drink containers has the potential to: change consumer behaviour; reduce sugary drink sales; prevent excessive sugar consumption; and help people to be better informed and more health conscious about their drink choices.
Since sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in our diets, Peeters noted that a front-of-pack health labelling strategy should be introduced as soon as possible, to help reduce the high rates of obesity, type-2 diabetes and preventable tooth decay in Australia.
Peeters also noted that front-of-pack health labels should be designed with children and adolescents in mind, since they represent the highest consumer group of sugary beverages in Australia.