Not all public service announcements (PSAs) are equally effective at getting parents to say they’ll cut their kids’ sugar intake.

Getting children to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks has been the goal of anti-obesity PSAs in cities across the United States. But to achieve that, the PSAs use very different strategies—some aim for humor, some use scare tactics, and some appeal to parents’ nurturing instincts.

A new study takes an experimental approach to identify the effectiveness of specific persuasive techniques used in the PSAs.

Researchers found the PSAs that were perceived as making a stronger argument for reducing sugary beverages and those that produced greater feelings of hope and empowerment made parents more likely to say they intended to cut back on their children’s intake of sugary drinks.

child holds soda cup

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania report the findings in American Behavioral Scientist. The public service ads targeted sugary beverages including non-diet soda, sweetened tea, and sports, energy, and fruit drinks.

The study, involving a national sample of 807 parents with children ages 3 to 17, finds persuasive techniques that used fear or nurturance were more significantly related to an ad’s perceived argument strength. Those emotional appeals may be more promising strategies for health-related messages directed at parents, the researchers say.

“Study after study shows that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is associated with weight gain in children,” says Amy Jordan, lead author of the research and a distinguished research fellow of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “There are now a plethora of campaigns encouraging healthier beverage consumption, and research like this helps to identify which strategies have the greatest likelihood of resonating with parents.”

Amy Bleakley, a senior research scientist at APPC and a coauthor of the study, says, “It’s important to have research-based, evidence-driven ads. You want to know before you create the ads which strategies are effective for your audience.”

This study follows one published earlier this year in which teens were shown the same PSAs. It found that the PSAs based on fear—which warned about the health consequences of too much sugar, including obesity, diabetes, and amputations—had the greatest effect on the teens’ intention to cut back on sugary drinks. It appeared in the Journal of Health Communication.


This text is published here under a Creative Commons License.
Author: Michael Rozansky-University of Pennsylvania
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1 COMMENT

  1. Contrary to the information here, obesity is not uniquely influenced by sugar-sweetened beverage intake, or any single source of calories for that matter. Many factors play a role when it comes to weight gain and obesity, including genetics, inactivity, overall diet, and more. We would also add that the latest data demonstrates a positive shift and shows the decline of obesity rates among younger children by nearly half over a decade. Also, soft drink consumption has dropped. In fact, the amount of all sugar-sweetened beverages consumed by children and adolescents has declined by as much as 42 percent, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – due in part to industry innovation.

    Ultimately, we believe that education with regard to overall diet and activity can help combat obesity. Our industry is doing its part on this front. For example, we voluntarily implemented national School Beverage Guidelines – effectively removing full-calorie soft drinks and cutting beverage calories in schools nationwide by 90 percent. Our member companies also recently launched the Balance Calories Initiative to promote a sensible diet and active life. In sum, we believe positive change happens when everyone works together — government, academia, healthcare and businesses like ours.
    -American Beverage Association

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