Color-coded labels at Mass. hospital increases customer attention

The simple red, yellow and green labeling system has customers paying more attention to their food choices.

Oct. 21—A simple, color-coded system for labeling food items in a hospital cafeteria appears to have increased customer's attention to the healthiness of their food choices, along with encouraging purchases of the most healthy items. In their report in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators describe customer responses to surveys taken before and after the 2010 implementation of a system using green, yellow or red "traffic light" labels to reflect the nutritional quality of items.

"Several small, experimental studies have suggested that 'traffic light' labels can be an effective method of promoting healthier choices, but there have been few real-world studies of customers' perceptions and purchasing behaviors in response to this type of labeling," explains Lillian Sonnenberg, DSc, RD, LDN, MGH Nutrition and Food Service, the corresponding author of the current report. "Our results suggest that these labels are an effective method for conveying information about healthy and unhealthy choices and for prompting changes in purchasing behavior."