Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

'Traffic-light' labeling increases attention to nutritional quality of food choices

18.10.2013
A simple, color-coded system for labeling food items in a hospital cafeteria appears to have increased customer's attention to the healthiness of their food choices, along with encouraging purchases of the most healthy items.

In their report in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators describe customer responses to surveys taken before and after the 2010 implementation of a system using green, yellow or red "traffic light" labels to reflect the nutritional quality of items.


In the Mass. General Hospital cafeteria, color-coded labels indicate the healthiest sandwich choices (green), along with those designated less (yellow) and least (red) healthy.

Credit: Mass. General Hospital Nutrition and Food Service

"Several small, experimental studies have suggested that 'traffic light' labels can be an effective method of promoting healthier choices, but there have been few real-world studies of customers' perceptions and purchasing behaviors in response to this type of labeling," explains Lillian Sonnenberg, DSc, RD, LDN, MGH Nutrition and Food Service, the corresponding author of the current report.

"Our results suggest that these labels are an effective method for conveying information about healthy and unhealthy choices and for prompting changes in purchasing behavior."

While many restaurants and other food service locations are now posting the calorie content of their standard items and make detailed information – such as fat, cholesterol and sodium content – available on request, the researchers note that interpreting this information requires knowledge and skills that many do not possess.

To find a simpler way to encourage more healthful purchases at the hospital's food service locations, MGH Nutrition and Food Service put together a plan that started with color-coding each item sold in the main cafeteria – green for the healthiest items, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats; yellow for less healthy items, and red for those with little or no nutritional value.

Signage encouraged frequent purchase of green items, less frequent for yellow and discouraged purchase of red items. Cafeteria cash registers were programmed to record each purchased item as green, yellow or red, starting three months before the labeling intervention began.

Previous reports from the MGH team have described how the program – a second phase of which included rearranging items in refrigerators to bring healthy choices to eye level – increased sales of green items while decreasing purchase of red items. The current paper reports results of a survey taken during the month before and the two months after the labeling intervention began in March 2010. Research coordinators approached customers who had just made purchases and asked them to participate in the brief survey.

Participants were asked whether they had noticed any nutritional information in the cafeteria or on food labels, which factors most influenced their purchases, how often they consider nutrition information before making food choices, and how often they "choose food that is healthy." After introduction of the color-coded labels, respondents were also asked whether they had noticed the labels and if the labels had influenced their purchases.

During the baseline period before the labeling intervention, 204 individuals completed the survey, and 243 did so in the weeks following. While 46 percent of respondents indicated that health/nutrition was an important factor in their choices at baseline, 61 percent did so after the intervention. The percentage of those indicating that they looked at available nutritional information before a purchase doubled from 15 to 33 percent, although there was no significant difference in the percentage reporting they usually or always choose healthy foods. Respondents who reported noticing the new labels bought a greater proportion of green items and fewer red items than did those who did not notice, and the influence was even stronger among those who indicated being influenced by the labels.

"While our results can't give concrete information about customers' nutritional knowledge, people were more likely to indicate that health and nutrition were important factors in their decision when the labels were in place, and those who noticed the labels were more likely to purchase healthy items," Sonnenberg says. "Although we haven't directly compared these "traffic light" labels to other systems, we can say that these labels appear to be more effective than the standard nutritional labeling available on packaged products. The strategy is simpler for customers to understand at the point of purchase and, once the appropriate labels for each item are determined, is relatively easy to implement."

The labeling system – along with second phase of adjusting the positioning of items, which was not included in the current study – as now in place at all MGH food service locations. Co-authors of the Preventive Medicine article are Susan Barraclough, MS, RD, LDN, and Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN, MGH Nutrition and Food Services; Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, MGH division of General Medicine; Douglas Levy, PhD, Mongan Institute of Health Policy at MGH; and Jason Riis, PhD, Harvard Business School.

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $775 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.

Cassandra Aviles | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.massgeneral.org/

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht A promising target for kidney fibrosis
21.04.2017 | Brigham and Women's Hospital

nachricht Stem cell transplants: activating signal paths may protect from graft-versus-host disease
20.04.2017 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics

25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Transfecting cells gently – the LZH presents a GNOME prototype at the Labvolution 2017

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>