A new study shows that the public health push to educate and warn consumers about bad eating and drinking habits is working.
Labels posted on sugar-sweetened beverages have caused more young people to reject those options. Researchers presented sweetened drink choices to more than 2,200 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 with labels that had no health warnings, others that listed calories per bottle, and others that read, “drinking beverages with added sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."
An online survey of teens found 77% who saw no label would likely select a sugary beverage.
The study published Thursday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found the number of teens in the group who saw the safety warning and chose a sugary drink was 17% fewer when compared to the number of those who did not see any health labeling. Among those who saw just the calories listed on the bottle of sugary beverages, 6% fewer chose to consume those drinks compared with the teens who chose drinks with no health-related labeling.
Sugary beverages have been blamed for a steady rise in childhood obesity over the past three decades. Some say it's a public health emergency as the number of cases among youth with chronic conditions that were once only seen in elderly adults—such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease—has increased.
City and state governments have taken on the fight, passing laws that attempt to limit the consumption of sugary drinks. One of the most notable came in 2012 when New York City tried to limit sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than 16 ounces. The ordinance was eventually overturned by a state appeals court in 2014.
At the time, there was public backlash against limits on consumer choice, but support for label requirements has grown. A study published in Pediatrics in January found 75% of parents supported sugar-sweetened beverage warning labels.
In 2015, San Francisco became the first city in the country to require health warnings for sugary drinks. A year later, Baltimore passed similar legislation, while states such as Washington and New York have introduced bills calling for labeling.
In June, Philadelphia became the first major city in the country to pass a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages in a move modeled after similar legislation passed in 2015 in Berkeley, California, where a penny per ounce excise tax was imposed.
A study published in August in the American Journal of Public Health found the Berkeley tax was associated with a 21% decline in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages four months after it went into effect.