According to an investigation published December 15 in the American Journal of Public Health, adolescents from lower-income, mainly Black neighborhoods in Baltimore who saw signs in convenience stores regarding calorie information, bought fewer energy drinks, sodas, and other sugary drinks. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported the investigation through its Healthy Eating Research program.

The researchers assessed various methods of providing calorie information to teenagers:
  • One sign noted that 250 calories were in a regular bottle of soda or fruit drink
  • One poster highlighted that the jogging time required to burn off the calories in a single bottle of soda or fruit drink was 50 minutes
  • One sign informed customers that a single soda or fruit drink is the equivalent to 10% of their daily recommended calories.
They found that the signs reduced the probability of adolescents buying sugary beverages by approximately 40% in comparison to providing no calorie information. The most effective sign provided a physical activity equivalent and reduced the chances of the Black teens buying one by 50%. This investigation is the first to analyze if various signs of calorie information for these drinks may influence customers purchases.

Lead investigator Sara Bleich, PhD, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained:

"Teenagers were less likely to purchase a sugar-sweetened beverage and more likely to select a healthier choice like water after they saw the calorie information signs."

According to results from the investigation water, diet soda or other non-sugar-sweetened drinks accounted for 6.7% of all purchases at the start of the investigation. After the signs, those purchases increased to 12% to 14% - depending on the calorie information sign presented.

Bleich said:

"This study showed that Black teenagers will use calorie information, especially when presented in an easy- to-understand format, such as a physical activity equivalent, to make healthier choices when it comes to buying a drink at the local corner store. Most consumers underestimate the number of calories in a can of sofa, and they often do not realize that such calories can add up quickly."

Four corner stores located within walking distance of middle and high schools in lower-income, predominantly Black neighborhoods in Baltimore City were used in the investigation. The brightly colored signs were randomly put on beverage cases, and the team recorded beverage sales at each store.

Prior investigations indicate that the average adolescent in the U.S. drinks approximately 300 calories per day from sugary drinks. In addition, studies have shown that consuming sugary drinks results in higher overall calorie consumption and puts individuals at an increased risk of being overweight or obese. In the U.S. almost one third of children and adolescents are either overweight or obese, Black adolescents are particularly at risk for this serious health problem, which can cause heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other diseases.

The investigation follows a national effort to provide individuals with detailed nutritional information at the point of purchase.

The FDA is expected to publish final regulations in 2012, mandating that restaurants with at least 20 locations - provide calorie information and price as well as additional information, such as total fat, sodium, and cholesterol upon customer request. Non-chain restaurants and individual food retail establishments can voluntarily comply with the novel requirements. The requirements were included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Written by Grace Rattue