Added sugar warning labels on restaurant menus may help consumers seek out healthier foods

Do you really want to order a soda with your burger? A single soda can contain more added sugar than the recommended daily limit for most adults.

Seeing a warning icon on a restaurant’s menu can help consumers identify high amounts of added sugar hidden in menu items -; and it may even convince them to switch to healthier products like water.

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

Excess added sugar in our food supply is a major driver of type 2 diabetes, which is expected to affect approximately half of all American adults during their lifetime.”

Desiree Sigala, Study Lead Author, UC Davis Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Molecular Biosciences

The study, published online in the July issue of the journal Preventive medecine, is considered the first of its kind to design and test the effects of added sugar warnings for restaurant menus. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires major restaurant chains to make certain nutrition information available in restaurants, there is currently no requirement to publicly disclose added sugar for restaurant foods. said researchers.

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

“By exposing the high amount of added sugar in common restaurant foods, these warnings could help consumers make informed decisions,” said lead author Jennifer Falbe, assistant professor of nutrition and human development at UC. Davis in the Department of Human Ecology. “But more importantly, requiring these warnings could encourage restaurants to offer a wider variety of options that aren’t loaded with sugar.”

The icons, designed by the study team, look like stop, yield and “caution” traffic signs.

The warning icons are a simple way to provide consumers with nutritional information and prompt companies to improve the safety of their products, without taking up menu space, the researchers said.

In the online randomized study, participants were shown either a control label (a QR code), one of six possible added sugars warning labels, or one of the icons combined with three variations of text: “high in added sugars”, “high sugar” and “sugar warning”. Each icon contained an exclamation mark or an exclamation mark with a spoon. While icon-plus-text and icon-only labels had favorable responses among participants compared to control labels for outcomes of perceived efficacy and knowledge of added sugar content of items, there was no no significant differences when comparing icon-only to icon-plus-text labels, the researchers said.

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

Additionally, most study participants, 80%, supported the added sugar warning labels used on restaurant menus.

“These promising results support the need for further development and testing of restaurant menu added sugar warning labels by conducting experiments with menu ordering outcomes to determine behavioral effects,” Falbe said.

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, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine; 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 subgrant from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Falbe has additional support from the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Agriculture. Sigala is supported by the National Institutes of Health. The content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official opinions or policies of the funders.


Journal reference:

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

Rachel J. Bradford