Study claims traffic lights more effective

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Traffic lights labelling system, more effective for indicating salt content
Traffic lights labelling system, more effective for indicating salt content
A new study by a Kiwi university has suggested that a traffic light system for food packaging for foods high in salt would help boost nutrition levels across New Zealand.

The research, which was conducted at the University of Otago (UOO), investigated the impact of a scenario where the traffic lights system for food packaging would be implemented in New Zealand.

It simulated in-store behavior and saw the researchers compare food labelling formats with a traffic lights system - high, medium or low salt content indicated by red, yellow or green lights.

The researchers at UOO’s Edgar National Centre for Diabetes Research (ENCDR) showed that the traffic lights system was far more effective than the front-of-pack Daily Intake Guide (DIG) labels currently used.

Dr Rachael McLean, a research fellow at ENCDR, told local newspaper Daily Otago Times that the traffic lights enabled people to identify the high-salt foods more easily than the more detailed information in the other labels tested.

However, under a decision taken by ministers across the Tasman Sea on a Food Labelling Review carried out in early 2011, both countries would adopt front-of-pack labelling with nutritional information, but not traffic lights as suggested.

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) told FoodNavigator-Asia that the industry body has never supported the traffic lights and will never do so.

“We believe that such a system is too simplistic, potentially confusing and, despite its best intentions to promote healthy food choices, could actually lead to poor health outcomes,”​ she said.

Good greens and bad reds?

Ci​ting an example of soft drinks, Rich explained that under the traffic light system, a bottle of full-sugar soft drink scores three green lights (saturated fat, fat and salt) and one red light for sugar, while a bottle of milk gets three orange lights (fat, saturated fat and sugar) and one green light for salt.

“Using traffic lights, the fizzy drink appears to be a healthier option, which is not correct. Consumers also think red means stop and green means eat as much as you like - again this could lead to unhealthy outcomes,” ​she explained.

According to Rich, many foods such as milk, marmite, honey and cheese will get a red light on their labels under this system while “they and many others are all part of the healthy balanced diet.”

Rich pointed out that the latest research again pretends that food composition and food choices are simple, and takes a look at traffic light labels only with salt in focus.

“That’s all very well, but consumers eat whole foods not components. A food might get a green light for salt, but what if there are three red lights for fat, saturated fat and sugar?”​ she asked.

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