Pre-K / toddler

Warning labels may help cure childhood obesity

A third of children in the US are obese, and sugary drinks are one of the biggest contributors to this poignant statistic according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

In general, consumers do not perceive sugary drinks as harmful.  After all, it’s a beverage, not a cookie.  But many sodas and even drinks marketed as “healthy” such as juice blends and sports drinks contain as much sugar as a cookie.

As consumers become more informed of the growing health problems caused by sugary drinks, a movement has started to require beverages with excessive amounts of sugar to print a warning on the label.  The warning would state that consuming the beverage may lead to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

I admit that my first reaction to solving the issue of sugary drinks and pediatric health with a warning label was rather cynical.  Does society really need another warning label? Would a warning label even help the health issues caused by our poor nutritional beverage choices?

However, after reading a study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, I changed my mind.  The study opened my eyes to the impact a simple warning could have on consumers’ purchasing choices and the overall health of future generations.

The study examined how parents’ choices are impacted by warning labels in two ways.

First, it asked parents to select a beverage for their child.  The control group was presented drinks without a warning or calorie label, a second group was presented a calorie label, and the final groups were presented beverages with a warning label on qualifying beverages.  The results indicated that consumers were significantly less likely to choose an unhealthy beverage for their child when a warning label was displayed.

Second, the study asked participants to select which beverage coupons they’d like from a similar list.  Consumers who had seen the warning labels during the first phase of the study were less likely to choose coupons for drinks with excessive amounts of sugar.

Additionally, the study asked consumers if they’d be in favor of a warning label policy, and many consumers felt that a warning label would change their beliefs about a beverage’s healthiness and would encourage them to buy less sugary drinks.

After reading this study, I believe that we could benefit from warning labels.  We all know that drinks like Coke, Pepsi, and Mt. Dew aren’t good for us, but many don’t realize how much added sweeteners are in drinks marketed as “healthy” such as sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks.  A warning label would make it quick and easy for consumers to know if a beverage was truly healthy.

Once I started to delve into the sugar content of popular beverages that are marketed as “healthy,” I was surprised by drinks like Horizon Organic Lowfat Chocolate Milk, Welch’s juice drinks, and Vitamin Water.  Many of them had sugar content as high as Coke or Pepsi, and many were well over the daily recommended sugar intake for young children (3-4 teaspoons according to the American Heart Association).

Water and milk are the best drinks for children.  Despite the high sugar content, it is ok to give kiddos a small glass of 100% juice (not juice drink as many contain only a small percentage of actual fruit juice) or a smoothie once a day.  Juice and smoothies count toward a child’s daily fruit intake.  Additionally, it is recommended that you add water to juice to cut down on the sugar.

Based on the various ways beverage corporations have made sugary drinks appear healthier with marketing tactics, lower calories, or added vitamins and minerals, I think that it may be necessary to put a warning label on beverages with excessive amounts of sugar.  Personally, it’ll make me more mindful as a consumer, and it’d make it easier for me to quickly choose healthier options for my family and the children I care for.

Learn More

  1. This video puts the amount of sugar in soft drinks into perspecitve: Soft Drink and Energy Drink Health PSA
  2. See how your favorite drinks stack up with this infographic from the Harvard School of Public Health: How Sweet Is It?
Note: The study, The Influence of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Health Warning Labels on Parents’ Choices, was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in February 2016.  Read More.
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