Traffic-Light Labeling Promotes Eating Changes

<p>Food environment interventions, such as color-coded labeling (traffic-light labeling) of food, may promote long-term changes in eating behaviors, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.</p>

BOSTONFood environment interventions, such as color-coded labeling (traffic-light labeling) of food, may promote long-term changes in eating behaviors, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Between Dec. 2009 and Feb. 2012 large hospital cafeteria with a mean of 6,511 daily transactions was analyzed for all cafeteria customers and a longitudinal cohort of 2,285 hospital employees who used the cafeteria regularly. Three months after the baseline period, items were rearranged for healthy accessibility and labeled green (healthy), yellow (less healthy) and red (unhealthy). Items such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy were labeled green and foods with high caloric content and saturated fat were labeled red.

Sales of red-label items decreased from 24% at baseline to 20% at 24 months and green sales increased from 41% to 46%. Red beverages decreased from 26% at baseline to 17% and green beverages increased from 52% to 60%. Similar patterns were observed for the cohort of employees with the largest change for red beverages.

These findings are the most important of our research thus far because they show a food labeling and product placement intervention can promote healthy choices that persist over the long term, with no evidence of label fatigue," said Anne Thorndike lead author, division of general medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. "The next steps will be to develop even more effective ways to promote healthy choices through the food service environment and translate these strategies to other work site, institutional, or retail settings." 

The Australian government rejected the introduction of traffic-light" food labeling system which would have required foods and beverages to carry red, amber or green ratings for key ingredients such as fats, salts and sugars.

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