Experimental Studies of Front-of-Package Nutrient Warning Labels on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Ultra-Processed Foods: A Scoping Review.Nutrients. 2020 Feb 22; 12(2)N
Policies that require front-of-package (FoP) nutrient warnings are becoming increasingly common across the globe as a strategy to discourage excess consumption of sugary drinks and ultra-processed food. However, a better understanding of the pathway through which FoP nutrient warnings work, as well as a review of how outcomes being measured in recent studies map onto this pathway, are needed in order to inform policy on the most effective FoP label design for reducing purchases of ultra-processed foods. This scoping review describes a conceptual model for how FoP nutrient warnings affect consumer behavior, examines which of these outcomes are currently being measured, and summarizes evidence from randomized controlled experiments. Twenty-two studies which experimentally tested nutrient warnings against a control label or other labeling systems were included for full-text review. Our conceptual model includes attention; comprehension, cognitive elaboration, and message acceptance; negative affect and risk perception; behavioral intentions, and behavioral response, along with other elements such as external factors and interpersonal communications. We found that many studies focused on outcomes such as attention, comprehension, and behavioral intentions, but considerable gaps in the evidence remain, particularly for intermediary steps on the pathway to behavioral change, such as negative affect and social interactions. FoP nutrient warnings were visually attended to by consumers, easy to understand, helped consumers identify products high in nutrients of concern, and discouraged them from purchasing these products, although other labeling systems were perceived as containing more information and performed better at helping consumers rank the healthfulness of products. More research is needed to understand whether and how nutrient warnings work in the real world to discourage consumer purchases of sugary drinks and ultra-processed food.