Plain packaging & warning labels for soft drinks?

An experimental study has looked at the effectiveness of tobacco-like strategies in turning young people off sugary drinks

Participants were 604 New Zealand young people aged 13-24 years who reportedly consumed soft drinks regularly.

Evenly split between male and female, the participants were randomly allocated to view one of several scenarios, including soft drinks that came with a 20% sugar tax, a warning label (text or graphic), plain packaging, as well as none or a combination of these.

Purchase probabilities and perceptions of the allocated product were then measured.

Results showed all three intervention scenarios (tax, warning label, plain packaging) had a significant negative effect on preferences for sugar-sweetened drinks.

Plain packaging and warning labels had a significant negative impact on the reported likelihood of purchasing a sugar-sweetened beverage.

In fact, plain packaging had the most significant negative impact on predicted product preferences and was associated with less positive perceptions of the product by the participants.

A text-only warning label was found to reduce perceived product attractiveness, quality, taste, and perceptions of consumer ‘coolness’, while graphic labels were even more effective.

Warning labels also had a stronger effect when combined with plain packaging.

Surprisingly, while a 20% tax reduced participants’ purchase probability, the University of Auckland researchers found the difference was not statistically significant.

Findings of only a weak effect from the tax was “unexpected”, say the researchers, who suggest the result may be due to the way price information was displayed in the study.

“The online experiment suggests that plain packaging and warning labels reduce young people’s preferences for, and reported likelihood to buy, sugar-sweetened beverages,” they say.

These results make a strong argument for plain packaging and warning labels to be considered as part of a portfolio of strategies to reduce young people’s sugar intake and consequently rates of childhood obesity, they conclude.

See the full study here.

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