Food and Behaviour Research

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Misperceptions about added sugar, non-nutritive sweeteners and juice in popular children's drinks: Experimental and cross-sectional study with U.S. parents of young children (1-5 years)

Harris J, Pomeranz J (2021) Pediatric Obesity 2021 Apr 7;e12791 doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12791 

Web URL: Read this and related articles on PubMed


Background: Experts recommend against serving sugary drinks and non-nutritive sweeteners to young children, but misperceptions about drink ingredients may contribute to consumption.

Objectives: Assess parents' ability to identify added sugar, non-nutritive sweeteners and juice in children's drinks.

Methods: Researchers recruited U.S. parents of young children (1-5 years) through an online survey panel (N = 1603). In a randomized experiment, participants indicated whether eight popular children's drink products contained added sugar or non-nutritive sweeteners and percentage of juice after viewing (a) front-of-package alone or (b) front-of-package plus nutrition/ingredient information. Participants also viewed common statements of identity on children's drinks to identify product ingredients.

Results: When viewing front-of-packages alone, most participants accurately identified products with (83%-90%) and without (51%-65%) added sugar. Showing nutrition/ingredient information increased accuracy. However, the majority could not identify drinks with non-nutritive sweeteners (53%-58%), and many incorrectly believed that unsweetened juices contained added sugar (38%-43%), sweetened flavoured waters had no added sugar (24%-25%), and 100% juice contained less than 100% juice (37%). Furthermore, the majority could not identify product ingredients from statement of identity terms.

Conclusions: Misperceptions about product ingredients under current labelling practices indicate that updated regulations are necessary, including clear disclosures of sweetener and juice content on package fronts.