Can Traffic-Light Labeling Help Us Make Healthier Food Choices?

   By drodriguez  Jan 19, 2014

Making healthier food choices often takes a little effort like reading food labels and balancing your diet. But a new simple color-coded labeling system can make it as easy as 1,2,3 or Red, Yellow, Green. A team of doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital have released some evidence that the traffic light food labeling can really help people make better choices.

NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleff reports about the Massachusetts study and her own experience with the color-coded food at her work’s cafeteria. Douceleff’s cafeteria recently adopted the traffic-light color-coded system with little red circles next to foods that you should only choose once in a while like short-ribs and mashed potatoes, yellow circles next to healthier choices like rice and baked cod and green circles next to healthy options to eat any time like vegetables.

Massachusetts doctors applied a similar system in their hospital and saw some pretty surprising results. Not only did the color-coded system help employees choose healthier options, it seems to have long-lasting effects. Primary care physician Anne Thorndike explains, “These changes stuck with people. Plus, the green, yellow and red system could be applied in many places.”

The Massachusetts hospital also decided to change the layout of the food offered, making it easier to grab the healthier options. Thorndike describes what they call “Choice architecture” of the food. She says, “We wanted to make the green choices the easiest option, the default choice. We added salads next to the pizzas and scattered water bottles all around the cafeteria.”

What do you think of the color-coded food system? Do you think this can help people make healthier choices?

Does this sound like something you could implement at home for your family?


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