In the new study, lead researcher Christina Roberto and her colleagues conducted an online survey of nearly 2,400 parents who had at least one child aged 6 to 11 years.
In a simulated online shopping experiment, parents were divided into six groups to “buy” drinks for their kids. One group saw no warning label on the beverages they would buy; another saw a label listing calories. The other four groups saw various warning labels about the potential health effects of sugary beverage intake, including weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.
Overall, only 40 percent of those who looked at the health warning labels chose a sugary drink. But, 60 percent of those who saw no label chose a sugary drink, as did 53 percent of those who saw the calorie-only label did.
There were no significant buying differences between the groups seeing the calorie-only label and no label, the findings showed.
“The warning labels seem to help in a way that the calorie labels do not,” said Roberto, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
The study was published online Jan. 14 in the journal Pediatrics.
According to Roberto, sugary beverages have as many as seven teaspoons of sugar in a 6.5-ounce serving, or nearly twice the amount of recommended sugar intake daily for children. Even beverages parents might consider healthy, such as sports drinks, may have high sugar levels.
About 66 percent of kids aged 2 to 11 drink sugar-sweetened beverages daily, the researchers said.
The study findings make sense, said Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. “Just as we see with public health efforts to decrease smoking with warning labels, warning labels about sugary drinks will be effective with some parents but not all,” she said.