Nutrition Labels on Food Products: Which Work Best?
A new analysis incorporated the results of 134 studies on the impact of color-coded nutrition labels and warnings found on the front of some food packaging, indicating that these labels do appear to encourage healthier shopping. Jing Song of Queen Mary University in London, UK, and colleagues present these findings, which could also help refine food labeling policies, in the open access journal PLOS medicine.
Many countries have introduced mandatory front-of-package labeling in hopes of improving people’s diets and reducing the burden of illnesses associated with unhealthy diets. These labels can be color coded to indicate nutrition, or they can warn consumers about unhealthy characteristics of products. However, studies on the impact of such labeling have produced mixed evidence.
To help clarify the impact of front-of-package nutrition labels, Song and colleagues analyzed data from 134 peer-reviewed studies published between January 1990 and May 2021. They applied an analytical method known as network meta-analysis in order to integrate the results. studies and assess the impact of four different labeling systems – two that use color coding and two that use disclaimers.
This meta-analysis showed that all four labeling systems appeared to be beneficial in encouraging consumers to purchase more nutritionally beneficial products. The assessment of specific nutritional qualities revealed that the labeling directs consumers towards foods and beverages that are low in energy, sodium, fat and saturated fat.
The analysis also highlighted psychological mechanisms that may underlie the different strengths of different labels, due to their impact on consumers’ understanding of nutritional information and the resulting changes in attitudes towards unhealthy foods or healthy. Color-coded labels appeared to be more beneficial in promoting healthier purchases, and warning labels were more effective in discouraging unhealthy purchases.
These findings could help guide and refine front-of-package labeling policies to improve public health. At the same time, future research could build on this study by addressing related concepts, such as the impact of labeling on product reformulation by the food industry or the longer term benefits of labeling on the food industry. buying behavior.