Will labeling food with stop and go colors prompt healthy eating behaviors?

Over the past decade or so, several attempts have been made by states, cities and the federal government to persuade people to eat healthier.

traffic light green light go 300x182 Will labeling food with stop and go colors prompt healthy eating behaviors? Photo

Can red, yellow, green food labels help people make healthier eating choices?

New York City, for one, banned trans fats in 2008. Now U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to follow suit and phase them out of food completely.

Then there were the calorie counts on menus. And an attempted ban on large sodas.

The latest trick is using red, yellow, and green labeling on packaged food and drinks. The method mimics the colors used in traffic lights to signal which foods are healthy and which are not.

So far, research on green, yellow, and red labeling for food has been limited to the cafeteria at Massachusetts General Hospital. During the study, fruits and vegetables got green labels, as did good sources of protein. By contrast, junk foods got red labels, while items that were fairly healthy got yellow labels. Additionally, the packages with the green labeling were placed at eye level, with the less healthy foods moved to the bottom shelves.

The study’s results included a 12 percent increase in sales of green-labeled foods and a 20 percent decrease in red-labeled items. This may be enough of a difference to prompt more widespread practice.

Considering that the obesity epidemic is costing the country billions of dollars per year, it’s no wonder that so many people are trying new ways to improve the public’s eating behaviors.

Among other measures being considered to curb bad eating habits are:

  • Banning junk food advertisements
  • Increasing taxes on unhealthy products
  • Creating age restrictions on the purchase of certain items

Whether these methods will result in healthy eating behaviors or not, remains to be seen. But we do like the simple nature of the color coding which can be used in multiple settings – even at home.

What do you think? Should government get involved in helping people eat healthier?