Friday, 4 July 2014

Traffic Light Code For Labelling Healthy and Unhealthy Food

Massachusetts General Hospital has announced the result of a two-year cafeteria test in which they labelled food with a green, yellow or red flag that resembled a colour on a traffic light. The green flag meant that the food was nutritious and low in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. A yellow flag indicated that there were nutritional problems with the food. A red flag indicated that the food was unhealthy.

Public domain illustration by Nemo
The data indicates that over the two years the flags caused a significant change in people's eating habits. For example, the sale of red items dropped by 20% and the sale of sugary drinks dropped by around 40%. On the other hand, the sale of green items increased by about 12%.

The doctor in charge of the study said that there were expectations from some people that consumers would get used to the traffic light colours and eventually ignore them. She says that the research project showed that this didn't happen.

I live in Canada. There has been pressure on the Canadian government to simplify nutritional labels on foods, which are seen as too detailed for consumers to bother reading. The traffic light system is considered to be a good idea because it's simple, noticeable and meaningful. We've been familiar with the meaning of red, yellow and green traffic lights for most of our lives, so the colours have "visceral" meaning, as one researcher said.

I try to follow a healthy diet and to buy nutritious food, but I do get tempted by junk food sometimes and stumble in my diet plan. Even though I already know which types of foods are healthy and unhealthy, I think that seeing a red flag on a food would definitely make me think more seriously about buying it. The link between red and danger is very strong in my mind and probably in the mind of many other people!