Causal Language in Health Warning Labels and US Adults’ Perception: A Randomized Experiment

Marissa Hall, Olivia M Maynard, Anna Grummon, Madeline Kameny, Desmond Jenson, Barry M. Popkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Objectives. To examine US adults’ reactions to health warnings with strong versus weak causal language.

Methods. In 2018, we randomly assigned 1360 US adults to answer an online survey about health warnings for cigarettes, sugar-sweetened beverages, or alcohol. Participants rated 4 warning statements using different causal language variants (“causes,” “contributes to,” “can contribute to,” and “may contribute to”) displayed in random arrangement.

Results. Most participants (76.3%) selected the warning that used “causes” as the 1 that most discouraged them from wanting to use the product. “Causes” was also selected most often (39.0% of participants) as the warning that participants most supported implementing. By contrast, most (66.1%) chose “may contribute to” as the warning that least discouraged them from wanting to use the product. We found few demographic differences in these patterns.

Conclusions. Warnings with stronger causal language are perceived to be effective and are supported by the public.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Public Health
Early online date4 Sep 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Tobacco and Alcohol
  • Physical and Mental Health

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