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All Natural Fruit Drinks Contain High Amounts of Added Sugar


Claims of 'natural' or '100% all-natural,' which commonly appear on sugary fruit juices in the United States, increase parents’ interest in buying these beverages for their children and make parents think the drinks are healthier, according to a new study led by researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.






If you are a parent, you may have noticed that many fruit drinks in the market have labels that say "natural" or "100% all natural". You may think that these drinks are a good choice for your children, since they seem to be made from real fruits and have no artificial ingredients.

But did you know that these claims can be misleading and may make you overlook the high amount of added sugar in these drinks?

A new study led by researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has found that parents are more likely to buy sugary fruit drinks for their children when they see "natural" claims on the packaging. The study also found that these claims make parents think that the drinks are healthier, have no added sugar, and are 100% juice, even though none of these are true.


The researchers surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. parents of children between the ages of 2 and 12, and showed them images of a pineapple orange fruit drink with added sugar labeled either with no claim, a "natural" claim or a "100% all natural" claim.

The results showed that parents who saw the claims

  1. were more interested in buying the drink,

  2. more likely to choose it over water or 100% juice, and

  3. less likely to understand that the drink contained added sugar.

Importantly, these results did not differ based on the parent’s educational status or the language of the survey. Because participants all saw cans that were identical apart from the claim, researchers say the results add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating strong links between confusing “natural” claims and misperceptions about nutritional content in beverages.


The study's corresponding author, Dr. Marissa Hall, an assistant professor of health behavior at the Gillings School and fellow at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and Carolina Population Center, said that

"natural" claims are used broadly and are largely unregulated, which can lead to shopper confusion or the belief that "natural" products are healthful, even when they are not.

She added that

sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the highest sources of excess sugar in American diets, including in children, and contribute to rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other nutritional health problems.

She advised parents to be skeptical when they see "natural" claims on foods and drinks, and to check the nutrition facts panel for information on calories, sugar and juice content.


“Our findings suggest that ‘natural’ claims are deceptive to parents who often have their children’s health at top of mind when shopping for them,” said Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at the Gillings School and CPC. “Stronger regulation of these claims is clearly needed.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could create a formal definition of the term ‘natural’ or prohibit these claims on drinks with added sugar. In any case, the onus shouldn’t fall on parents to be on the lookout for misleading marketing claims.”

Words like “natural” and “all natural” are commonly found in marketing for food and beverages in the United States. While research has shown that consumers prefer products that purport to be “natural,” these claims are used broadly and are largely unregulated, which can lead to shopper confusion or the belief that “natural” products are healthful, even when they are not.


RESOURCES


Hall, Marissa G., et al. “Natural Claims on Sugary Fruit Drinks: A Randomized Experiment With U.S. Parents.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 65, no. 5, Nov. 2023, pp. 876–85. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2023.06.015. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(23)00279-9/fulltext

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Hall, Marissa G., et al. “Nutrition-Related Claims Lead Parents to Choose Less Healthy Drinks for Young Children: A Randomized Trial in a Virtual Convenience Store.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 115, no. 4, Apr. 2022, pp. 1144–54. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqac008.

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Fleming-Milici, F., Phaneuf, L., & Harris, J. L. (2022). Marketing of sugar-sweetened children's drinks and parents' misperceptions about benefits for young children. Maternal & child nutrition, 18(3), e13338. https://doi.org/10.1111/mcn.13338

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