January 30, 2012

A consumer perspective on the growing role of front-of-pack nutrition labelling

Wasa crackers with 'Ik Kies Bewust' (IKB)  logo

The future of front-of-pack nutrition labelling is still heavily debated. These small-sized nutrition logos aim to make your healthy food choice more intuitive and simple. Examples include the Choices logo, Guiding Stars system, Traffic Light systems and Guidelines Daily Amounts (GDA) systems. 

Recently, a paper written by Hans Dagevos and myself was accepted for publication in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (click here for full-text preprint paper). The paper is inspired by our Dutch book 'Gezondheidslogo's op eten' we edited almost three years ago. We felt that although a lot of attention is devoted to the nutritional foundation of profile systems (e.g. which criteria to use), less attention is given to the consumer perspective in the development of these logos. More insight is needed in the psychological issues surrounding the current debates. For example, various misinterpretations may occur with nutrition labels (see table 2 in paper). One concern is that nutrition information on packages makes consumers vulnerable to halo effects. So, if it looks healthy, you can eat more.

Proponents believe that these logos promote healthier choices and stimulate innovation of the food industry. Unfortunately, little empirical evidence exist showing that these labels will actually lead to healthier food choices and less nutrition-related diseases. Opponents even warn that logos may confuse and mislead consumers. Particularly positive framed nutrition labels may act as a kind of 'good for you' messages.  

Let's end with some fresh good news from the front-of-pack nutrition logos field! A few days ago, Marion Nestle blogged about a recent study showing the positive effects of traffic light labels in a cafeteria setting. This intervention study, published in the American Journal of Public Health found that traffic light labels led to decreases in sales of red-labeled items and increases in sales of those with green labels. Results were most striking for beverage sales. Overall, this shows that front-of-pack logos can play a vital role as part of a broader basket of interventions that encourage consumers to improve their eating habits.

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