Study: Beverage Labels Confuse Parents

Ernie NeffFlorida Department of Citrus, Orange Juice, Research

Beverage labeling regulations appear to fall short of helping parents identify the ingredients of drinks they purchase for their children, a recent study published in Pediatric Obesity suggests. This has researchers calling for changes to labeling regulations to increase transparency and help consumers choose healthier beverages.

The online study included more than 1,600 parents who had healthy 1- to 5-year-old children. Parents were shown product label information for commonly consumed children’s beverages, including flavored waters, 100% fruit juice, and juice drinks and other beverages containing added sugars or non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners. Some parents were shown only front labels, while some were shown both front and back or side labels which included the Nutrition Facts panel and other information. Study participants then answered questions concerning the sugar and percent juice content of the beverages.      

About one-third of participants indicated they were not confident they could identify the added sugar and juice content of beverages. Only about half (48%) of study participants said they looked at the Nutrition Facts panel all or most of the time when choosing beverages for their children.

Overall, participants frequently underestimated the percent of juice in 100% fruit juice. Only 51% of parents who were shown only the package front correctly identified the juice percentage in 100% juice.

Conversely, participants frequently overestimated the amount of pure fruit juice in sugar-sweetened juice drinks. For an added-sugar product that looks similar to 100% orange juice but contains only 5% juice, participants looking at the front panel estimated, on average, that the product contained 45% pure fruit juice.

Gail Rampersaud, registered dietitian nutritionist in the Scientific Research Department of the Florida Department of Citrus, said the study suggests that labels for 100% fruit juice and fruit beverages or drinks are not working as intended. The label confusion “for many parents may result in misunderstandings and confusion when trying to choose healthful beverages for their children,” Rampersaud said. “Consumers need more education coupled with labels that are clearer and easier to understand.”

The results suggest that lack of knowledge and clear labeling may lead parents to choose less healthy added-sugar beverages over 100% juices, such as 100% orange juice. The researchers suggest that the Food and Drug Administration allow label declarations that will increase transparency concerning juice percentage and sweetener content, particularly on package fronts, to help consumers make healthful beverage choices.

Source: Florida Department of Citrus

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