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 Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'
16.11.2018 | Purdue University

nachricht Microgel powder fights infection and helps wounds heal
14.11.2018 | Michigan Technological University

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: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>