Adolescents may choose healthier foods when they carry traffic-light-style information, rather than guideline daily amounts (GDAs) alone, suggests a new study.
Currently, some retailers and manufacturers list Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) of nutrients as well as traffic light labels and text, while others only provide GDAs. In addition, the visual presentation of this information varies.
This latest study, published in Public Health Nutrition, asked 81 Spanish adolescents aged 14-16 to choose foods from an unbranded menu over five days, which were labelled with either monochrome GDA labels or GDA labels combined with traffic light labelling. The labels were explained to the participants before the study began.
“We focused on adolescents because they are often very sensitive about their diet and body image and at the same time very vulnerable to marketing techniques used to inﬂuence consumer choices,” the study’s authors wrote, adding that adolescents’ eating behaviours also often carry over into adulthood.
They found that the coloured traffic light GDA labels were associated with the participants choosing products with significantly less energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt than the monochrome GDA labels.
“Compared with the monochrome GDA front-of-pack nutritional label, the multiple-trafﬁc-light system helped adolescents to differentiate between healthier and less healthy food, theoretically making it possible for them to choose a diet closer to dietary recommendations,” said the researchers.
Across Europe, nearly half (48%) of all packaged food products have nutrition information front-of-pack, according to FLABEL (Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life). FLABEL says that GDAs and nutrition claims are the most common forms of front-of-pack nutrition information, both present on about a quarter of European foods.
The researchers behind this latest study acknowledged that their research did have some limitations, including participant recruitment from only one school.
Source: Public Health Nutrition
Published online ahead of print doi:10.1017/S1368980013001274
“Adolescents’ ability to select healthy food using two different front-of-pack food labels: a cross-over study”
Authors: Nancy Babio, Paloma Vicent, Leonor López, Anna Benito, Julio Basulto and Jordi Salas-Salvadó