KIDS
January 27, 2016

Help for Parents Hoping to Curb Sugary Drinks

Sometimes it's hard to keep kids from drinking sugary beverages. Warning labels can help.

Sugary drinks such as sodas, energy drinks, and sugar-sweetened juices are one of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity. Kids who down these sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), with their liquid calories, don’t feel full the way they would if they had eaten the same number of calories from food, so the calories add up, and so do the pounds.

Overweight and obesity are not the only problems. SSBs may be a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes, once only an adult disease. Decayed teeth can also be a side effect of the overconsumption of sugary drinks.

Almost 75 percent of the parents supported adding warnings about sugar to the labels of sugar-sweetened drinks.

Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to reducing children's consumption of SSBs, but with fast food, the low cost of these sugary treats, and whining kids, it's hard for parents to hold the line.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found a way to help. Parents are less likely to buy sugary drinks for their kids, they found, if the drinks come in a container that has a warning label, reminding them — and their children — of the health consequences of the sugar lurking inside.

“In light of the childhood obesity epidemic and studies suggesting that more than half of children under the age of 11 drink SSBs on a daily basis, there is a growing concern about the health effects associated with consumption of these beverages,” Christina Roberto, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Some states have introduced bills requiring SSBs to display health warning labels, but to date, there is little data to suggest how labels might influence purchasing habits, or which labels may be the most impactful.”

The researchers conducted an online survey of over 2,300 parents who had at least one child between the ages of six and 11. The participants, many from racial and ethnic backgrounds that have the highest obesity rates in the country, were divided into six groups: the control group saw no warning labels; another group saw only calorie information; and four groups who saw variations of warnings about the potential for negative health effects of SSBs.

The parents were asked to choose a beverage to buy for their child. The specific wording of the health warning on the SSB labels didn’t affect the parent’s decision to buy the beverage; however, the fact that the label was present proved to be significant. Among the group of parents exposed to the health warning labels, only 40 percent said they would buy a SSB for their kids compared to 60 percent of parents who didn’t see a label and 53 percent who only saw the number of calories in the beverage said they would choose the SSB.

The study found that warning labels improved parents’ understanding of the dangers of too many sugary beverages. Consumer support for warning labels on SSBs was also measured as part of the study, and almost 75 percent of the parents supported adding them to labels.

New USDA dietary guidelines recommend that sugar intake be limited to 10 percent or less of daily calories. SSBs contain as much as seven teaspoons of sugar per 6.5 ounces which is almost twice the amount of sugar children should be consuming.

The findings of the study are in line with research conducted on the effects of labeling tobacco products. Warnings on cigarettes have been shown to increase people’s knowledge of the hazards of smoking and, as a result, encourage a reduction of their use. Roberto is hopeful that the addition of warning labels to SSBs may work similarly and encourage parents to buy fewer of the drinks.

What parents need to understand is that there is really no place in a child’s diet for soft drinks. Fruit drinks and fruit punches contain added sugars, but a bottle or box labeled 100 percent fruit juice doesn’t. And as much as your son or daughter wants to carry an energy drink or a fluid replacement drink to their sporting event, they contain sugar. Unless she is continuously moving and sweating for 90 minutes or more, she doesn’t need one. Plain water will do, and it’s sugar-free!

The study is published in Pediatrics.

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