Traffic Light Labels Lead To Healthier Food

"Food manufacturers are currently allowed to use any labelling system they prefer on the front of food packages. In some countries this has led to a plethora of different systems appearing on supermarket shelves, which only serves to confuse consumers and does not allow them to quickly and accurately identify healthy products," said Bridget Kelly, a nutritionist at the Cancer Council, New South Wales in Australia. "The food industry tends to favour the percentage daily intake method, but our research indicates that the traffic light system is the most effective and that a consistent labelling approach across all food products is needed," said Kelly.

Kelly and her colleagues aimed to determine the most acceptable and effective food labelling system for consumers. Four different approaches were tested on 790 Australians to determine their preferences and ability to compare the healthiness of mock food products, using two variations of the traffic light system and two variations of the percentage daily intake system. Each person was exposed to only one type of nutrition label, allowing each system to be evaluated on its own merits without the influence of the others.

Traffic light labelling uses colours to rate the nutritional content of food according to how healthy it is. A common version uses a panel with red, amber or green dots to rate the food's salt, sugar, saturated fat and total fat content separately. A variation adds a single coloured dot to give an overall rating, rather than just rating separate nutrients.

The percentage daily intake system and its variations present, for each of the key nutrients, the proportion of the government recommended adult daily intake that a serving of the product contains.

The study found that consumers favoured a consistent labelling format across all products. In addition, those who were shown the traffic light labels were five times more likely to identify healthier foods than those shown a single colour version of the percentage daily intake label and three times more likely to do so than those shown a colour-coded version of the daily intake label.; Source: European Association for the Study of Obesity