Nutrition-related claims lead parents to choose less healthy drinks for young children: a randomized trial in a virtual convenience store

Am J Clin Nutr. 2022 Apr 1;115(4):1144-1154. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqac008.


Background: Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit drinks (i.e., fruit-flavored drinks containing added sugar), contributes to childhood obesity.

Objectives: We aimed to examine whether nutrition-related claims on fruit drinks influence purchasing among parents and lead to misperceptions of healthfulness.

Methods: We conducted an experiment in a virtual convenience store with 2219 parents of children ages 1-5 y. Parents were randomly assigned to view fruit drinks displaying 1 of 3 claims ("No artificial sweeteners," "100% Vitamin C," and "100% All Natural") or no claim (i.e., control group). Parents selected among each of 2 drinks for their young child: 1) a fruit drink or 100% juice (primary outcome), and 2) a fruit drink or water.

Results: When choosing between a fruit drink and 100% juice, 45% of parents who viewed the fruit drink with the "No artificial sweeteners" claim, 51% who viewed the "100% Vitamin C" claim, and 54% who viewed the "100% All Natural" claim selected the fruit drink, compared with 32% in the no-claim control group (all P < 0.001). "No artificial sweeteners" (Cohen's d = 0.13, P < 0.05) and "100% All Natural" (d = 0.15, P < 0.05) claims increased the likelihood of parents choosing the fruit drink instead of water but "100% Vitamin C" did not (P = 0.06). All claims made parents more likely to incorrectly believe that the fruit drinks contained no added sugar and were 100% juice than the control (d ranged from 0.26 to 0.84, all P < 0.001), as assessed in a posttest survey. The impact of claims on selection of the fruit drink (compared with 100% juice) did not vary by any of the moderators examined (e.g., race/ethnicity, income; all moderation P > 0.05).

Conclusions: Nutrition-related claims led parents to choose less healthy beverages for their children and misled them about the healthfulness of fruit drinks. Labeling regulations could mitigate misleading marketing of fruit drinks.This trial was registered at as NCT04381481.

Keywords: childhood obesity; front-of-package labels; marketing; nutrition-related claims; randomized controlled trial; sugar-sweetened beverages.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Beverages
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Marketing
  • Parents
  • Pediatric Obesity*
  • Sugar-Sweetened Beverages*

Associated data