Sugar warning labels added to restaurant menus can help consumers find healthier items

Do you really want to order a soda with your burger? Just one soda may have more added sugar than the recommended daily limit for most adults.

Seeing a warning icon on a restaurant menu can help consumers identify the large amounts of added sugar that are hidden in menu items -; and it can even convince them to get healthier items like water.

These are the observations recorded in a new study from the University of California, Davis. In a national survey of more than 1,300 adults, researchers found that added sugar warnings with more text icons, or just icons, were effective in getting a “high added sugar” warning message to people. . The survey was conducted in 2021.

Excess sugar added to our food supply is one of the main drivers of type 2 diabetes, which is expected to affect half of all American adults throughout their lives. “

Desiree Sigala, lead author of the study, postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, Department of Molecular Biosciences

The study, published online in the July issue of the journal Preventive Medicine, is believed to be the first of its kind to design and test the effects of added sugar warnings on restaurant menus. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires large restaurant chains to include the nutritional information available in restaurants, there is currently no requirement for the added sugar to be publicly disclosed for food. restaurants, the researchers said.

This leaves consumers in the dark about high levels of added sugar to their meals, which can contribute to negative health outcomes, the researchers said. Recently, New York City tried to address this issue by passing a law requiring warnings of added sugar to prepackaged foods on the restaurant menu. Politicians across the country are considering similar warnings for added sugar on restaurant menus.

“By exposing the amount of sugar added to regular restaurant foods, these warnings could help consumers make informed decisions,” said lead author Jennifer Falbe, UC Davis’s adjunct professor of nutrition and human development at the Department. of Human Ecology. “But more importantly, enforcing these warnings could encourage restaurants to offer a wider variety of non-sugar-laden options.”

The icons, designed by the study team, resemble stop, failure, and “caution” traffic signs.

Researchers said that warning icons are an easy way to equip consumers with nutritional information and to encourage companies to improve the health of their products, without taking up space on the menu.

In the online randomized study, participants were shown a control tag (a QR code), one of six possible sugar-added warning tags with icons only, or one of the icons combined with three text variations: “high in added sugars”. “high sugars” and “sugar warning”. Each icon contained an exclamation mark or an exclamation mark with a spoon. Although the more text and icon-only icon tags had favorable responses among participants compared to the control tags for the results of perceived effectiveness and knowledge of the added sugar content of the articles, there is no there were significant differences in comparing only the icon with the plus icon. -text tags, the researchers said.

According to the researchers, the design of the labels was based on the sodium warning labels required by law for the menus of restaurant chains in New York City and Philadelphia.

In addition, the majority of study participants, or 80%, supported the added sugar warning labels used in restaurant menus.

“These promising results support the need to further develop and test the added sugar warning labels on the restaurant menu by conducting experiments with the results of menu ordering to determine the effects of the behavior,” he said. dir Falbe.

In addition to Falbe and Sigala, co-authors include Marissa G. Hall, Department of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Aviva A. Musicus, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health; Christina A. Roberto, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Sarah E. Solar, Department of Human Ecology, and Sili Fan, Department of Statistics, UC Davis; DeAnna Nara and Sarah Sorscher, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The study was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies directly and through a sub-award from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Falbe has additional support from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sigala has the support of the National Institutes of Health. Content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views or official policies of the funders.


University of California – Davis

Magazine reference:

Sigala, DM, et al. (2022) Perceived effectiveness of added sugar warning label designs for U.S. restaurant menus: an online randomized controlled trial. Preventive Medicine.

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