Field Poll shows support for warning labels on sugary drinks; study confirms labels can be a deterrent

January 25, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

A new statewide Field Poll finds increasing voter support in California for warning labels on sugary beverages, despite ramped-up counter efforts by the beverage industry. Nearly four out of five registered voters polled (78 percent) support requiring warning labels to be printed on sugary drinks, up from 74 percent two years ago.

A national study published last week in the journal Pediatrics also suggests that warning labels on sugary beverages might indeed deter people from buying the products.

Researchers said they found that the impact of putting a label on the drink was actually two-fold: The labels educated consumers about the unhealthy aspects of drinking sugary beverages and influenced their purchasing behavior as a result.

According to the Field Poll, California voters support sugary drink warning labels primarily because they see labels as a tool to promote personal responsibility for one’s sugar consumption (29 percent) and because warning labels support consumers’ right to know which products are harmful (28 percent). Other voters cited their interest in helping parents choose healthier beverages for their children (21 percent) and combating diabetes and obesity (17 percent).

Legislation to require a sugary drink warning label (SB 203) failed to pass the California Senate last week. It would have placed a simple warning on the front of all beverage containers with added sweeteners that have 75 or more calories per 12 ounces. The label, developed by a national panel of nutrition and public health experts, would have read: STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

In 2014, the legislature considered a similar bill (SB 1000). That bill was sponsored by a coalition that included the California Medical Association (CMA), the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the California Black Health Network and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Although this bill passed the state Senate, it was held up in the Assembly.

The idea for the bill was part of a CMA contest for medical school students and residents. The contest, called "My CMA Idea," collected ideas for public health legislation from medical students and residents, allowing future physicians to help craft public policy to better the health of all Californians. The winning idea came from a first-year medical student from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, Tom Gaither.


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