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New Study Investigates the Effects of Food Health Warning Labels (HWL) on Consumers

Deborah Killion

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Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Bristol have recently joined forces in studying the effects of health warning labels (HWL) on snacks could have on consumer behaviors, reports Food Navigator.

In particular, the study administered online and included 4134 people over the age of 18. These participants were selected based on whether or not they consumed energy-dense snacks, including cookies, cakes, chocolates, etc. at least once a week. As for the results, when comparing snack selection based on whether or not a label was present, researchers found that any label type reduced one's interest in such snacks.

The descriptive statistics suggest that image and text HWLs led to a drastic drop in energy-dense snacks selection by participants (n = 1,530) compared to text-only HWLs (n = 1902), calorie information-only (n = 2,232) and no label (n = 2,439). That said, one’s deciding factor supposedly remained somewhat unchanged when calorie information was combined with text-only HWL (n = 165) and image-and-text HWL (n = 41)

These results show that the food industry might have to provide more information and potential health concerns to enlighten consumers on what they are eating. However, the researchers affirm that it is too soon to jump to such conclusions. They have since suggested that more information is essential in understanding how the public perceives HWLs on food products.

“We need further research on whether [HWL] works in a variety of settings. We also need more research on their acceptability by the public and on any potential adverse effects, such as obesity stigma, as there is some initial research that suggests graphic warnings on sugary drinks can lead to increased stigma.”

Given that this study only looked at labels displayed on virtual snacks, rather than handing them out, the researchers hope that, in the future, reviews will be conducted in a “more naturalistic real-world setting.” For this reason, the team wants everyone to interpret the study's results with caution.

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