- Information from the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts label on food packaging are more influential than on-package claims when purchasing sweet foods and beverages.
- When it comes to information about the health effects of sugar and low-calorie sweeteners, most people trust their own health care provider and distrust bloggers and influencers without a medical or nutrition degree.
- Out of foods and beverages that contain caloric sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners and sugar alcohols, people are more likely to consume foods and beverages with caloric sweeteners, with honey being the most appealing option.
- Half of parents and caregivers of children report a high level of monitoring their youngest child’s sugar intake, with those caring for younger children more likely to closely monitor intake than those with older kids.
- Nearly three in ten prioritize the Total Sugars information on the Nutrition Facts label, while 18% turn to Added Sugars information.
It’s common to hear cautious phrases surrounding sugar intake, whether in regard to day-to-day consumption or around holidays and special occasions where food, drinks and desserts are focal points. But who do people really trust when it comes to information about the health effects of sugar and sweeteners? And are people more likely to consume foods and beverages that contain certain sweeteners over others?
In addition to seeking the answers to these questions, this survey aimed to explore which information sources and labels are the most influential when buying sweet foods and beverages, how people use Total or Added Sugars information in making their purchasing decisions, and how the perceptions and behaviors of parents and caregivers of those under 18 may or may not differ from those without children in their care.
Here are some key findings:
When buying sweet foods and beverages, the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts label are the most influential information sources found on packaging. Over one in three (37%) ranked the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts label as one of their top two most influential information sources. Fewer felt the same about on-package claims—“no artificial sweeteners” was the most influential of the claims, with one in four (25%) highly ranking this, and just over one in five (22%) saying that “no added sugars” and “sugar-free” held sway in their decision.
While claims were overall less influential, demographic comparisons show that certain claims resonated more with specific groups. People under age 45 were more likely to say that “reduced sugar” and “lightly sweetened” most influences their purchases, compared with those age 45–64 and 65+. Parents or caregivers of a child aged newborn to 10 years old were more likely to say that “no artificial sweeteners,” “sugar-free,” “reduced sugar,” and “lightly sweetened” were top influential claims, compared with those who are not a parent of a child under 18.
Most are unfamiliar with the rare sugar allulose. Nearly seven in ten (66%) said they have never heard of sorbose, allulose, tagatose, isomaltulose, arabinose or trehalose—types of sugar that are metabolized differently than traditionally used sugars. Out of people who have heard of at least one of these, the most recognized were sorbose (16%) and allulose (15%), types of rare sugars that are found in nature only in small quantities. People under age 45, those with college degrees and parents or caregivers of children aged newborn to ten years old were more likely to recognize the names of these sugars than their counterparts.
For information on the health effects of sugar and low-calorie sweeteners, people have the most trust in their own health care provider and the least amount of trust in bloggers or social media influencers without a medical or nutrition degree. People place the highest levels of trust in their own health care provider (75% moderate or great deal of trust), hospitals (71%) and registered dietitians in a hospital or clinic (65%) for this information. The information sources with the lowest levels of trust were bloggers or social media influencers without a medical or nutrition degree (63% trust little or not at all) and the website or social media accounts of a food or beverage brand (50% trust little or not at all). However, people under 45 and parents or caregivers of children aged newborn to 10 years old were more likely to trust both of these media-based information sources compared with those aged 65+ and those who are not a parent or caregiver of a child under 18. At the same time, parents or caregivers of a child aged newborn to 10 years old were also more likely to trust non-profit organizations or professional associations, universities and the U.S. government.
People are more likely to consume foods and beverages with caloric sweeteners over those with low-calorie sweeteners, sugar alcohols and allulose. Honey was the most highly ranked ingredient included in foods and beverages that people were most likely to consume, followed by brown sugar and sucrose (sugar). Among low-calorie sweeteners, people were most likely to consume foods and beverages with stevia and monk fruit sweeteners. Sugar alcohols xylitol, maltitol and erythritol ranked similarly in terms of likelihood of consumption and were collectively far less likely to be consumed compared with caloric sweeteners.
Half of parents with young children report a high level of monitoring of their youngest child’s sugar intake. Nearly nine in ten parents (88%) with a child under age 18 monitor their youngest child’s intake to at least a moderate degree, and 51% monitor intake to a high degree. However, age plays a role. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 indicating a very close level of monitoring, parents of children aged ten and under had a higher mean level of monitoring (7.5) compared with parents of kids aged 11–17 (6.0).
More people prioritize looking at the Total Sugars information than looking at the Added Sugars on the Nutrition Facts label when shopping. Nearly three in ten (28%) said that Total Sugars information is one of the top three things they look at most often on the Nutrition Facts label, compared with only 18% who said the same about Added Sugars information. Demographic comparisons show that parents or caregivers of a child aged newborn to 10 years old were more likely to say they look at Added Sugars and Sugar Alcohol content than those who were not parents or caregivers of children. Out of those who prioritize Total Sugars information, over half (51%) say they use this information for general awareness and 45% say they use it to compare products and choose the one with the lower amount. Of those who often look at Added Sugars, the top reasons they use this information are similar: for comparing between products (41%) and for general awareness (40%). Of those who prioritize looking for Total or Added Sugars content, most attention is paid when considering desserts or sweet snacks, 100% fruit juice, breakfast cereals and soft drinks when grocery shopping.
Survey results were derived from 992 online interviews conducted among adults ages 18+ from April 9th to April 14th, 2021. They were weighted to ensure proportional representation of the population, with a margin of error of ±3.1 points at the 95% confidence level.