Graphic cigarette-style warnings should be placed on fizzy drink cans experts say after research shows they cut unhealthy choices by a third.
Sugary drinks are a major contributor to the UK’s obesity epidemic and policy makers are looking at ways to cut the amount consumed.
Researchers tested almost 1,000 adults’ choices as part of a trial presented at the European Obesity Congress in Vienna.
When faced with a label including an image of decayed teeth participants were 36% less likely to buy a sugary drink.
Participants from across Australia aged 18 to 35 took part in the trial and were asked to chose one of 15 drinks. They included drinks with no label, a health star rating, a text warning or a label listing the number of teaspoons of sugar contained. They could also chose “no drink”.
Lead author Prof Anna Peeters, of Deakin University in Melbourne, said:
“The study showed much larger changes than I had expected.
“Our findings highlight the potential of front-of-pack health labels to change consumer behaviour.
“The question now is what kind of impact these labels could have on the obesity epidemic.”
Those studied were 20% less likely to purchase sugary drinks that included the Health Star Rating and 18% less likely when displaying teaspoons of added sugar.
They were far (20%) more likely to choose healthier alternatives when Health Star Ratings were displayed compared to no label.
Prof Graham MacGregor, chairman of the charity Action on Sugar, said: “We certainly think, longer term, more radical solutions need to be considered such as plain packaging and possibly graphic imagery as a stark reminder of the consequences of excessive sugar consumption.”
Any move towards the graphic labelling would be fiercely opposed by drinks firms.
Gavin Partington, director general at British Soft Drinks Association said:
“Experience in the UK suggests that action industry is taking 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.
“We hope our action to date on sugar and calorie reduction set an example for other international markets.”
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