Traffic Light System Can Increase Healthfulness Perception: Implications for Policy Making

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Abstract

Objective

To evaluate how information about low nutrient content included in the traffic light labeling system influences consumers' perception of the healthfulness of products with high content of 1 key nutrient, and to compare the traffic light system with warnings in terms of the perception of healthfulness.

Design

Images of front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labels (the traffic light labeling system with different numbers of nutrients with low content, and warnings) were evaluated in study 1, whereas product labels featuring the different FOP nutrition labels were evaluated in study 2.

Setting

Online studies conducted in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Participants

A total of 1,228 Uruguayan Facebook users.

Main Outcome Measures

Perception of healthfulness.

Analysis

The researchers used ANOVA to evaluate the influence of FOP nutrition labels on perceived healthfulness.

Results

The inclusion of information about low nutrient content in the traffic light system statistically significantly increased the perception of the healthfulness of products with high nutrient content. Nutritional warnings showed healthfulness ratings similar to those of the simplified version of the traffic light system.

Conclusions and Implications

Information about low nutrient content in the traffic light system might be used to infer health, and thus could raise the perception of healthfulness and decrease the traffic light system's efficacy in discouraging the consumption of unhealthful products. A simplified version of the traffic light highlighting only high-nutrient content or nutritional warnings seems to overcome this problem.

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