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 Unique brain 'fingerprint' can predict drug effectiveness
11.07.2018 | McGill University

nachricht Direct conversion of non-neuronal cells into nerve cells
03.07.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides

16.07.2018 | Life Sciences

New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon

16.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>