Can Warning Signs Persuade Teens to Lay Off Soda?

Can Warning Signs Persuade Teens to Lay Off Soda?

A recent experiment in inner-city Baltimore finds that when children and teens see warning signs posted near soda purchase sites, their consumption of sugary beverages declines markedly, with implications for fighting childhood and teen obesity.

Published December 20, 2011



Over the past few months, there has been much media coverage about a report that found that from 2008 to 2010, children's and teens' exposure to television ads for soda doubled. This has led many health experts to be concerned about young people’s health, especially since soda companies advertise more to Black and Latino teens.

What’s the big deal?

Well, soda consumption and the high levels of sugar in these drinks are partially to blame for the obesity crisis among American youth, a crisis that is even more pronounced in the Black community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 percent of African-American girls aged 6 to 11 are overweight and 19 percent of African-American boys in the same age group are overweight. For Black teenagers, the numbers are similar.
Moreover, 22.4 percent of African-American children aged 6 to 17 are obese, which is defined as having a body mass index higher than 30.

So what can be done?

Researchers from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health wanted to bridge the knowledge gap with teens and the health effects of soda. So they used warning signs with messages explaining, for instance, that it takes 50 minutes of jogging to burn off the calories of just one soda. By associating something “negative” such as jogging, researchers hoped to persuade the teens to make better choices.

The good news: It works. NPR’s blog The Salt reported that by taping signs in the coolers in four inner-city corner stores, teens’ purchases of sugary drinks decreased by 50 percent. This was more effective than having a sign that just said that each of these drinks were 250 calories.


NPR wrote:  

To test the idea, [the researchers] picked four corner stores near middle and high schools in low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore. Each sign, which was a simple piece of paper, was tested separately, with a grad student in the corner quietly writing down teenagers' purchases as they hit the counter.

The signs stating the percentage of daily caloric intake in a soda reduced sugary purchases by about 40 percent, while merely listing the calories in a drink (which is already listed on the bottle) seemed to have no effect. Instead of buying soda or fruit juice, many kids who read the sign picked water instead. The work was published today in the American Journal of Public Health.
The new federal health care law requires restaurants and vending machines to start labeling the calorie content of food and drink, in an effort to encourage healthy choices. That's expected to kick into gear next year.

Would warning signs make you rethink your eating choices?

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

Written by Kellee Terrell


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