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Traffic Light Labeling Helps Consumers Find Healthy Foods

May 8, 2009

According to a new study, color-coded “traffic light” food labeling systems are better than percentage daily intake systems in helping consumers identify healthy foods.

“We found that shoppers who used traffic light labeling were five times more likely to be able to identify healthier food products, compared to shoppers who saw the percentage daily intake system,” lead researcher Bridget Kelly, from the Cancer Council, told Reuters Health.

“Shoppers were also able to compare different food products and make judgments about them at a glance with traffic light labeling,” Kelly added.

Percentage daily intake systems show what proportions of key nutrients are recommended for daily intake.  The traffic light system uses a color dot to rate the nutrient content of a product.

The study, which will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity on Friday, randomly exposed 790 people to foods with percentage daily intake labeling or traffic light labeling.  The participants were then asked to identify healthier foods.

The people were able to identify traffic light labeled food faster and more accurately.

According to Kelly, the traffic light system also helped socially disadvantaged people easily identify healthy products.

“While all consumers could use the traffic light system to pick healthier foods, the percentage daily intake system could only be used by the most socially advantaged people,” she added.

The study findings show that the traffic light system helps people identify healthy foods easier, but according to Kelly, telling whether consumers will buy the products is another question.

Further research will be needed to answer that question, she added.

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