Traffic light labelling uses colours to rate the nutritional content of food according to how healthy it is. A common version uses a panel with red, amber or green dots to rate the food's salt, sugar, saturated fat and total fat content separately. A variation adds a single coloured dot to give an overall rating, rather than just rating separate nutrients.
The percentage daily intake system and its variations present, for each of the key nutrients, the proportion of the government recommended adult daily intake that a serving of the product contains.
The study found that consumers favoured a consistent labelling format across all products. In addition, those who were shown the traffic light labels were five times more likely to identify healthier foods than those shown a single colour version of the percentage daily intake label and three times more likely to do so than those shown a colour-coded version of the daily intake label.
"As a result of these findings, we are recommending that mandatory traffic light labelling regulation be introduced in Australia. The labels should be applied to all processed retail grocery food and drinks at first, and consideration should be given to extending that to restaurant chains with standard menu items," Kelly said.
The findings are relevant to other countries, Kelly said, adding that regulations being considered by the European Union favour a system similar to the percentage daily intake approach.
Kelly said that further research is needed to determine whether the traffic light system proves to be as effective in other countries, but that the study showed it could be used equally well by all consumers, regardless of ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status.
The study was funded by the New South Wales Health Department, the University of Sydney and several Australian public health and consumer organisations.
|Contact: Emma Ross|
European Association for the Study of Obesity