A “Traffic Light” System Designed to Improve Your Food Decisions


Food labels are mystifying: Even armed with data about nutritional content, consumers still can’t seem to make healthier choices with the information, if the obesity epidemic is any guide. One idea for solving the problem is to Design a traffic light system for food, with green meaning okay to eat always, yellow meaning sometimes, and red meaning almost never.

Australian researchers just tested out a traffic light design, and the results are encouraging. They pitted it against another design, similar to the current one stateside, which offers percentage daily values, and various color-coded systems. The 790 study subjects were five times more likely to identify healthier foods when presented with the color-coded system.

The EU is already debating alternate labelingschemes, including the traffic light system; the Australian study backs up earlier results on a similar system, carried out in England. Does such a system have a shot, stateside? One key assumption of the traffic light system is an agreed upon definition of healthfulness, which is currently being thrashed out at home and abroad. Without that, the traffic lights won’t work, meaning the issue really splits into several: How do you design such a label, how do you create the standards, and how do you get the related industries–such as cattle growers and Big Corn–to sign off, given how powerful their lobbies are in Washington? But the timing seems right: Michelle Obama has made healthy eating into one of her pet causes; the White House is starting a vegetable garden; and President Obama is calling for stricter health labeling.

[Via Food Politics]