Warning: Big sugar doses ahead. The warning labels aren’t quite that stark but the premise holds true: Simple warning labels reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by nearly 20% during a study conducted on a college campus.
That’s what happened when researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Michigan placed warning labels on beverage dispensers at a cafeteria on the Michigan campus for a semester. Using language that was based on a proposed California law, the bright yellow signs with a large triangle and an exclamation point cautioned that sugar consumption contributes to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Two other Michigan cafeterias were used as control sites and had no beverage warning labels.
More than 800 students were enrolled in a survey without being told beforehand that the topic was sugar-sweetened drinks. At the cafeteria with the warning labels, students reported drinking nearly 20% fewer sugary drinks, compared with a 5% reduction at the cafeterias with no warning labels.
It wasn’t just soda drinking that declined. Consumption of 100% juice drinks also fell, even though the juices were not labeled as sugar-sweetened.
The findings suggest the labels could cut the consumption of pink lemonade, sweet tea, chocolate milk and other beverages for which the sugar content isn’t readily apparent or commonly known.
The researchers hope their findings raise awareness about healthier drink choices — similar to the positive effects that tobacco warning labels have already had.
The scientists also think the message could resonate beyond college campuses: Think before you drink.