Warning labels help reduce sugary drink intake among college students

A study of the University of Michigan (UM) School of Public Health and University of California (UC) Davis found that placing warning labels on beverage dispensers helped reduce consumption by nearly 15 percent.

The researchers placed warning labels on beverage dispensers at a U-M cafeteria for one semester in 2019. The labels were bright yellow with a large triangle and exclamation mark stating, “Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.”

Two other cafeterias on campus located geographically distant from the cafeteria with the labels served as control sites and had no warning labels.

Nearly 1,000 students were contacted by email before and after the warning labels were implemented to ask them to participate in surveys with no specific mention of sugar-sweetened beverages. In all, 840 students across were included in the study.

At the intervention site, consumption of sugary drinks that had the warning label declined by nearly 19 percent, compared to a decline of about 5 percent at the control sites. Students exposed to the warning labels also reduced their 100-percent fruit juice consumption by 21 percent even though they had not been labeled as sugar-sweetened beverages in the experiment.

“These results provide evidence to inform future institutional strategies … and legislative efforts to use warning labels as a promising approach to SSB consumption,” said Jennifer Falbe, assistant professor of nutrition and human development at UC Davis, adding that nine states, including California, have introduced sugar-sweetened beverage warning label legislation. “These laws could ensure that consumers have the necessary information to make informed choices.”

“College is a great time to educate students on healthy eating and beverage consumption. We hope to aid in building habits that will last a lifetime,” said co-author Keith Soster, director of student engagement for Michigan Dining.

The study, posted on UM’s website on Wednesday, has been published in the Journal of Nutrition.

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