Obesity levels are rising, and if the issue isn’t addressed, millions of individuals around the world will continue to suffer from an array of health problems and diseases. But, what’s the best way to tackle obesity? The WHO has labelled global obesity as a “social and environmental disease”. Therefore strategies should focus on encouraging consumers to make healthier choices. That’s why, as a recent study has suggested, there is a possibility that graphic health warnings could be put on sugary drinks in the future. If successful this could then be extended to other unhealthy foods.
In the same way that tobacco products are currently labelled, the researchers have suggested that health warnings about that side effects of sugary drinks could help to deter people. These would include health warnings about the risk of diabetes, dental problems and obesity. When combined with the nutritional information, it was found that a lot of young people were turned off sugary drinks by this type of labelling.
Professor Anna Peeters, lead author of the study, from Deakin University in Australia said that there was a “compelling case” for health warnings to be implemented on sugary drinks globally. She 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.”
In the study the graphic and text warning labels both stated: “Warning: Drinking drinks with added sugar contributes to obesity, Type Two diabetes and tooth decay.” It was found that participants in the study were 36% more likely to purchase the drinks when a graphic warning label was included, compared to those without a label. They were also 20% more likely to opt for healthier alternatives when the drinks had “Health Star Ratings” displayed on the packaging.
Professor Peeters said: “All the different label types have the potential to reduce the intended choice of sugary drinks among young adults. It seems to me, in the comprehensive package of things we have to do to reduce sugary drink consumption, this is likely to be one useful mechanism. Half the battle is shifting communities and the response that we got from this is that was really useful. So I think it’s a great leg-in, or foot-in-the-door, to shifting those community attitudes.”
Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, said the study “sets an example” for other markets, adding: “Experience in the UK suggests that action industry is taking – around reformulation, portion size and switching advertising spend to low or no calorie products – is having ample effect in changing consumer behaviour. In fact, sugar intake from soft drinks in the UK has fallen by almost 19% since 2013 – five times as much as other categories, according to latest Public Health England data.”