The impact of ‘on-pack’ pictorial health warning labels and calorie information labels on drink choice: A laboratory experiment
Mantzari E., Pechey R., Codling S., Sexton O., Hollands GJ., Marteau TM.
© 2019 The Authors Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are one of the largest added sugar sources to diets in the UK and USA. Health warning labels reduce hypothetical selection of SSBs in online studies but uncertainty surrounds their impact on selection of drinks for consumption. Calorie information labels are also promising but their impact on SSB selection is unclear. This laboratory study assessed the impact on SSB selection of ‘on-pack’ labels placed directly on physical products: i.a pictorial health warning label depicting an adverse health consequence of excess sugar consumption; and ii.calorie information labels. Potential moderation of any effects by socio-economic position (SEP) was also examined. Participants - 401 adults, resident in England, approximately half of whom were of lower SEP and half of higher SEP, were asked to select a drink from a range of two non-SSBs and four SSBs (subsequent to completing a separate study assessing the effects of food availability on snack selection). The drinks included ‘on-pack’ labels according to randomisation: Group 1: pictorial health warning label on SSBs; Group 2: calorie information label on all drinks; Group 3: no additional label. The primary outcome was the proportion of participants selecting an SSB. Compared to not having additional labels (39%), neither the pictorial health warning label (40%) nor calorie information labels (43%) affected the proportion of participants selecting an SSB. Lower SEP participants (45%) were more likely to select an SSB compared to those of higher SEP (35%), but SEP did not moderate the impact of labels on drink selection. In conclusion, pictorial health warning labels may be less effective in reducing SSB selection in lab-based compared with online settings, or depending on label design and placement. Findings suggest that effects might be absent when choosing from real products with actual ‘on-pack’ labels, positioned in a ‘realistic’ manner. Field studies are needed to further assess the impact of ‘on-pack’ SSB warning labels in real-world settings to rule out the possible contribution of study design factors.