Nav: Home

Health warning labels on alcohol and snacks may reduce consumption

April 01, 2020

Image-and-text health warning labels, similar to those on cigarette boxes, show potential for reducing the consumption of alcoholic drinks and energy-dense snacks, such as chocolate bars, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Health warning labels (HWLs) using images and text to depict the negative health consequences of smoking have been found to be effective and acceptable for changing smoking-related outcomes. However, evidence for the potential usefulness of HWLs for reducing the consumption of alcoholic drinks and energy-dense foods like chocolate bars or crisps, is limited.

A team of researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Bristol, UK conducted two online studies with separate participants, asking them to rate different image-and-text HWLs on alcoholic drinks (5,528 participants) or energy-dense snacks (4,618 participants).

Dr Gareth Hollands, the corresponding author said: "To our knowledge, these are the first large-scale studies in general populations to examine the potential effectiveness and acceptability of image-and-text health warning labels on alcohol and on snack foods. Prior research in this area has typically either looked at these warning labels on sugary drinks, or used smaller or less representative samples."

The authors found that HWLs on alcoholic drinks depicting bowel cancer, followed by those depicting liver cancer were associated with the highest level of negative emotions - such as fear, disgust, discomfort and worry - and the lowest desire to consume the product. They were also considered the least acceptable for use by the study participants. In general, few of the alcohol HWLs were considered acceptable, with only three out of 21 rated at least somewhat acceptable.

HWLs on high-density snacks depicting bowel cancer, followed by those depicting non-specific cancer were associated with the highest level of negative emotions and lowest desire to consume the product, with those depicting bowel cancer considered to be the least acceptable. HWLs on energy-dense snacks were judged on average more acceptable than those on alcohol, with 13 out of 18 snack HWLs rated as at least somewhat acceptable.

The authors suggest that the response to labels depicting bowel cancer HWLs may indicate those that have the greatest potential for reducing alcohol and snack food selection and consumption.

Gareth Hollands said: "The finding that health warning labels may be judged to be relatively more acceptable to use on snack foods, than on alcohol, could be due to heightened public awareness of the health consequences of excess energy intake and obesity, particularly in children. In general, however, many of the participants expressed negative views of the possible use of such labels."

Participants for the alcohol study were sampled from the UK population if they self-reported consuming either beer or wine at least once a week. A total of 5528 people were shown an image of a bottle of beer or wine labelled with one of 21 possible HWLs illustrating the adverse health consequences of alcohol consumption. Participants were asked how afraid, worried, uncomfortable or disgusted the label made them feel, to rate their desire to consume the product, and how strongly they supported putting the label on alcoholic drinks.

For the food study participants were sampled from the UK population if they self-reported that they consumed biscuits, cake, crisps or chocolate at least once a week, and liked chocolate. A total of 4618 people were shown an image of a chocolate bar labelled with one of 18possible HWLs illustrating the adverse health consequences of obesity and related conditions, caused by excess calorie consumption.

The authors caution that this study could not demonstrate whether negative emotional arousal and impacts on desire to consume are actually effective in changing behaviour. As the studies were conducted online, responses may differ when HWLs are applied to physical products in real-world settings. Further studies are needed to examine the real-world potential of these labels to reduce selection and consumption of alcohol and energy-dense snacks.
Media Contact

Anne Korn
Senior Communications Manager
Springer Nature
T: +44 (0) 2031 9227 44

Notes to editor:

1. Research article:

Image-and-text health warning labels on alcohol and food: potential effectiveness and acceptability

Pechey et al. BMC Public Health 2020

DOI: 10.1186/s12889-020-8403-8

After the embargo lifts, the article will be available here:

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BMC's open access policy.

2. BMC Public Health is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health. The journal has a special focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions on the community.

3. A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, specialist journals such as Malaria Journal and Microbiome, and the BMC series. At BMC, research is always in progress. We are committed to continual innovation to better support the needs of our communities, ensuring the integrity of the research we publish, and championing the benefits of open research. BMC is part of Springer Nature, giving us greater opportunities to help authors connect and advance discoveries across the world.

BMC (BioMed Central)

Related Alcohol Articles:

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.
Alcohol marketing and underage drinking
A new study by a research team including scientists from the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation provides a systematic review of research that examines relationships between exposure to alcohol marketing and alcohol use behaviors among adolescents and young adults.
Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.
Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).
Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.
The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.
Alcohol-induced brain damage continues after alcohol is stopped
Now, a joint work of the Institute of Neuroscience CSIC-UMH, in Alicante, and the Central Institute of Mental Health of Mannheim, in Germany, has detected, by means of magnetic resonance, how the damage in the brain continues during the first weeks of abstinence, although the consumption of alcohol ceases.
Does alcohol consumption have an effect on arthritis?
Several previous studies have demonstrated that moderate alcohol consumption is linked with less severe disease and better quality of life in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, but a new Arthritis Care & Research study suggests that this might not be because drinking alcohol is beneficial.
How genes affect tobacco and alcohol use
A new study gives insight into the complexity of genetic and environmental factors that compel some of us to drink and smoke more than others.
Cutting societal alcohol use may prevent alcohol disorders developing -- Otago research reveals
Society must take collective responsibility to reduce the harm caused by alcohol use disorders, a University of Otago academic says.
More Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at