A study published in the open access journal PLOS Medicine on February 1st found that visual health warnings could reduce the purchase of sugary drinks. Pictures of type 2 diabetes or heart damage were shown to reduce the number of sugary drinks purchased by children in a study in a real-world store setting. Sugary drinks may be less popular if health warnings appear on their packaging, according to a study.

Children in the United States eat far more sugary drinks than is recommended, increasing their risk of a wide range of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For the most part, the effects of visual warnings on sugary drink intake have not been studied.

325 parents of children ages 2-12 were randomly assigned to either an intervention or control arm and asked to select their child’s beverage and snack, as well as a household item, from a naturalistic store laboratory. While the control group received barcode labels, the intervention group had visual health warnings about type 2 diabetes or heart disease printed on their beverages.

Parents in the control group were more likely than those in the graphic warning group to purchase a sugary beverage for their child at 45% versus 28%, respectively. Additionally, the number of calories (kcal) consumed by drinking sugary drinks was reduced: controls consumed an average of 82 kcal, while the pictorial warnings group consumed only 52 kcal. When asked about their plans to give their children sugary drinks, the parents who participated in the intervention said they were more thoughtful about their choices and the consequences of doing so. It may be possible to reduce the purchasing of sugary drinks for children and the associated health impacts by using pictorial warnings.