Warning labels using images may steer consumers away from sugary drinks

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Pictures may be more effective than words in helping consumers make healthier choices. A new study, published online June 18 by Psychological Science, found that using warning labels that included photos to outline the health risks of sugary drinks appeared to be more effective than written warnings in encouraging people to choose healthier drinks.

Researchers tested two different types of warnings for sugary beverages: warnings with photos and text, and text-only warnings. The warnings were placed near bottled and fountain drinks in a cafeteria at a Massachusetts hospital at different times. During the study period, there were more than 20,000 drinks sold.

When the photographic warning was displayed, overall drink sales stayed the same, but sales of sugary drinks dropped by 14.8%, and bottled water purchases went up. In addition, there was a drop in the number of calories per drink sold, from 88 calories per bottle to 75. The text warning and calorie labels did not appear to have any effect on purchasing decisions.

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