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Hall, Marissa G.; Grummon, Anna H.; Higgins, Isabella C. A.; Lazard, Allison J.; Prestemon, Carmen E.; AvendaƱo-Galdamez, Mirian I.; & Taillie, Lindsey Smith (2022). The Impact of Pictorial Health Warnings on Purchases of Sugary Drinks for Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLOS Medicine, 19(2), e1003885. PMCID: PMC8806063


BACKGROUND: Pictorial warnings on tobacco products are promising for motivating behavior change, but few studies have examined pictorial warnings for sugary drinks, especially in naturalistic environments. This study aimed to examine the impact of pictorial warnings on parents' purchases of sugary drinks for their children in a naturalistic store laboratory.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: Parents of children ages 2 to 12 (n = 325, 25% identifying as Black, 20% Hispanic) completed a shopping task in a naturalistic store laboratory in North Carolina. Participants were randomly assigned to a pictorial warnings arm (sugary drinks displayed pictorial health warnings about type 2 diabetes and heart damage) or a control arm (sugary drinks displayed a barcode label). Parents selected 1 beverage and 1 snack for their child, as well as 1 household good; one of these items was selected for them to purchase and take home. The primary outcome was whether parents purchased a sugary drink for their child. Secondary outcomes included reactions to the trial labels, attitudes toward sugary drinks, and intentions to serve their child sugary drinks. Pictorial warnings led to a 17-percentage point reduction in purchases of sugary drinks (95% CI for reduction: 7% to 27%), with 45% of parents in the control arm buying a sugary drink for their child compared to 28% in the pictorial warning arm (p = 0.002). The impact of pictorial warnings on purchases did not differ by any of the 13 participant characteristics examined (e.g., race/ethnicity, income, education, and age of child). Pictorial warnings also led to lower calories (kcal), purchased from sugary drinks (82 kcal in the control arm versus 52 kcal in the pictorial warnings arm, p = 0.003). Moreover, pictorial warnings led to lower intentions to serve sugary drinks to their child, feeling more in control of healthy eating decisions, greater thinking about the harms of sugary drinks, stronger negative emotional reactions, greater anticipated social interactions, lower perceived healthfulness of sugary drinks for their child, and greater injunctive norms to limit sugary drinks for their child (all p < 0.05). There was no evidence of difference between trial arms on noticing of the labels, appeal of sugary drinks, perceived amount of added sugar in sugary drinks, risk perceptions, or perceived tastiness of sugary drinks (all p > 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Pictorial warnings reduced parents' purchases of sugary drinks for their children in this naturalistic trial. Warnings on sugary drinks are a promising policy approach to reduce sugary drink purchasing in the US.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

PLOS Medicine


Hall, Marissa G.
Grummon, Anna H.
Higgins, Isabella C. A.
Lazard, Allison J.
Prestemon, Carmen E.
AvendaƱo-Galdamez, Mirian I.
Taillie, Lindsey Smith

Article Type





United States of America


North Carolina


Grummon - 0000-0002-8705-038X
Higgins - 0000-0003-0241-2378
Taillie - 0000-0002-4555-2525
Hall - 0000-0002-8690-9498