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Frustrated’ Health Sector Turns to Tobacco-like Labeling to Issue Warning Over Sweetened Drinks

Despite years of warnings about Australia’s obesity rates, public health advocates are frustrated by the lack of action and researchers are having to get creative to draw attention to the problem.

The latest idea comes from researchers at Deakin University who have presented research at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna finding graphic labelling, similar to that seen on cigarette cartons, is likely to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

The release of the research coincided with a similar study conducted at the University of Melbourne that assessed the effect of graphic labels on consumers evaluating snack foods items.

Health experts across Australia backed the Deakin findings and called for the labels to be introduced on the sweetened beverages — the product that often sits at the centre of the sugar debate.

These drinks are widely talked about by public health advocates because, as Simon Tatz from the Australian Medical Association says, they “have absolutely no food value”.

The proposed graphic labels would see the products treated like tobacco, and in some parts of the world, alcohol, where consumers would face warnings about the health impacts of excessive sugar consumption every time they reached for one.

In the Deakin study, graphic warning labels with an image of decayed teeth had the greatest impact, according to lead researcher Professor Anna Peeters.

“Participants were 36 per cent less likely to purchase sugary drinks that included a graphic warning compared to a drink with no label,” she said.

Researchers interviewed 1,000 people aged 18 to 35 years old across Australia about which drink they would choose from a selection labelled in one of five different ways.

“Our findings highlight the potential of front-of-pack health labels, particularly graphic images and health star ratings, to change consumer behaviour, reduce purchases of sugar sweetened drinks, and help people make healthier choices,” Professor Peeters said to ABC.