Exploring the main and moderating effects of individual-level characteristics on consumer responses to sugar taxes and front-of-pack nutrition labels in an experimental marketplace



This study examined whether the impacts of sugar taxes and front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labels differ across socio-demographic subgroups.

Research question

What are the main and moderating effects of individual-level characteristics on the nutrient content of participants’ purchases in response to varying taxation levels and FOP labels?


Data from an experimental marketplace were analyzed. A sample of 3584 Canadians aged 13 years and older received $5 to purchase an item from a selection of 20 beverages and 20 snack foods. Participants were shown products with one of five FOP labels and completed eight within-subject purchasing tasks with different tax conditions. Linear mixed models were used to estimate the main and moderating effects of 11 individual-level variables on the sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and calorie content of participants’ purchases.


Participants who were younger, male, and more frequent consumers of sugary drinks purchased products containing more sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and calories. Sex and age moderated the relationship between tax condition and sugars or calories purchased: female participants were more responsive than males to a tax that included fruit juice, and younger participants were more responsive to all sugar tax conditions than older participants. Reported thirst and education level also moderated the relationship between tax condition and calories purchased. No individual-level characteristics moderated the effects of FOP labels.


A small proportion (7 of 176) of the moderating effects tested in this study were significant. Sugar taxes and FOP labelling policies may therefore produce similar effects across key socio-demographic groups.



Dans cette étude, nous avons cherché à déterminer si les effets des taxes sur le sucre et de l’étiquetage nutritionnel sur le devant des emballages sont les mêmes dans différents sous-groupes sociodémographiques.

Question de recherche

Quels sont les principaux effets et les effets modérateurs des caractéristiques individuelles sur le contenu nutritionnel des achats des participants quand le niveau des taxes et l’étiquetage sur le devant des emballages varient?


Nous avons analysé les données d’un marché expérimental. Nous avons offert à un échantillon de 3 584 Canadiens de 13 ans et plus 5 $ pour acheter un article parmi 20 boissons et 20 grignotines. Les participants se sont fait présenter des produits portant l’une de cinq étiquettes sur le devant de l’emballage et ont effectué huit tâches d’achat intra-sujet avec différentes modalités de taxation. Des modèles linéaires mixtes ont servi à estimer les principaux effets et les effets modérateurs de 11 variables individuelles sur la teneur en sucres, en sodium, en graisses saturées et en calories des achats des participants.


Les jeunes, les participants de sexe masculin et les consommateurs fréquents de boissons sucrées ont acheté des produits contenant plus de sucres, de sodium, de graisses saturées et de calories. Le sexe et l’âge ont modéré la relation entre la modalité de taxation et les sucres ou les calories achetés : les filles et les femmes étaient plus sensibles que les garçons et les hommes à une taxe incluant les jus de fruits, et les jeunes étaient plus sensibles à toutes les modalités de taxation du sucre que les participants plus âgés. La soif et le niveau d’instruction autodéclarés ont aussi modéré la relation entre la modalité de taxation et les calories achetées. Aucune caractéristique individuelle n’a modéré les effets des étiquettes sur le devant des emballages.


Seule une petite proportion (7 sur 176) des effets modérateurs testés dans l’étude était significative. Les politiques de taxation du sucre et d’étiquetage sur le devant des emballages pourraient donc produire des effets semblables dans plusieurs groupes sociodémographiques clés.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Data availability

Data can be made available upon request.


  1. 1.

    Additional consent from a parent or guardian was required for participants under the age of 16 years; if a parent or guardian was not present, the shopper was not permitted to participate.

  2. 2.

    Omitted participants were more likely to be 13–18 or > 45 years of age, less likely to report efforts to consume less sugars in the past year, and tended to have lower education compared to the analytic sample.

  3. 3.

    The budget of $5.00 provided sufficient money to cover the prices of any beverage or snack food products, while also offering an appropriate amount of ‘change’ to give financial significance to the purchases.


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The authors would like to thank Dr. Christina Roberto for comments on an early draft of the manuscript. The authors are also indebted to all participants who dedicated their time to the study, as well as the research assistants who were fundamental in surveying and data collection. This manuscript will be published in the doctoral thesis dissertation of RBA.


This work was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Operating Grant in Sugar and Health [# SAH-152808]. Additional funding for this project has been provided by a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) – CIHR Chair in Applied Public Health, which supports Professor Hammond, staff, and students at the University of Waterloo.

Author information




RBA, SIK, and DH designed research; RBA conducted research; RBA performed statistical analysis; RBA wrote the initial draft of the manuscript; SIK and DH contributed significantly to the manuscript; RBA had primary responsibility for final content. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Hammond.

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Ethics approval and consent to participate

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Waterloo Office of Research Ethics (ORE #22494) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Not applicable.

Conflict of interest

David Hammond has provided paid expert testimony on behalf of public health authorities in response to legal challenges from the food and beverage industry. All remaining authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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Code can be made available upon request.

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Acton, R.B., Kirkpatrick, S.I. & Hammond, D. Exploring the main and moderating effects of individual-level characteristics on consumer responses to sugar taxes and front-of-pack nutrition labels in an experimental marketplace. Can J Public Health (2021). https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-021-00475-x

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  • Nutrition policy
  • Health policy
  • Taxes
  • Nutrition labelling
  • Socio-economic factors
  • Epidemiologic effect modifiers


  • Politique nutritionnelle
  • politique de santé
  • taxes
  • étiquetage nutritionnel
  • facteurs socioéconomiques
  • modificateurs d’effets épidémiologiques