Would You Give Up Your Can Of Coke If It Had A Picture Of Rotten Teeth On It?

Researchers say cigarette-style graphic warnings would encourage us to cut back on sugar.

If you pick up a packet of cigarettes you’ll be met with a graphic photo depicting the possible consequences of smoking. Now, researchers have suggested the same idea should be applied to sugary drinks.

A team from Australia’s Deakin University conducted an online experiment to examine the drink choices of almost 1,000 Australians aged 18-35.

They found young adults are less likely to buy sugar-sweetened drinks that have health labels, particularly those with graphic warnings about how added sugar can lead to tooth decay, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Stock image.
RusN via Getty Images
Stock image.

To investigate how labels might impact our drink choices, participants were split into groups and asked to imagine they were entering a shop, café, or approaching a vending machine to purchase a drink. they were then asked to choose one of 15 drinks, with sugary and non-sweetened options available.

One group was shown drinks with regular labels, while the others were shown one of four modified labels containing health warnings: a graphic warning, a text warning, highlighted sugar information (including number of teaspoons of added sugar) or a health star rating on all drinks. Alternatively, they could select “no drink” if they no longer wanted to buy a drink.

Overall, participants were far less likely to select a sugary drink when a front-of-pack label was displayed compared to no label, regardless of their level of education, age, and socioeconomic background.

Graphic warning labels that include an image of decayed teeth and which indicated that consuming drinks with added sugar may contribute to tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, or obesity, appeared to have the greatest impact. Participants were 36% less likely to purchase sugary drinks that included a graphic warning compared to a drink with no label.

“Our findings highlight the potential of front-of-pack health labels, particularly graphic images and health star ratings, to change consumer behaviour, reduce purchases of sugar-sweetened drinks, and help people to make healthier choices,” Professor Anna 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.”

The new research, being presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Vienna, Austria (23-26 May).

Before You Go