Impact of different food label formats on healthiness evaluation and food choice of consumers: a randomized-controlled study

BMC Public Health. 2009 Jun 12;9:184. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-9-184.


Background: Front of pack food labels or signpost labels are currently widely discussed as means to help consumers to make informed food choices. It is hoped that more informed food choices will result in an overall healthier diet. There is only limited evidence, as to which format of a food label is best understood by consumers, helps them best to differentiate between more or less healthy food and whether these changes in perceived healthiness result in changes of food choice.

Methods: In a randomised experimental study in Hamburg/Germany 420 adult subjects were exposed to one of five experimental conditions: (1) a simple "healthy choice" tick, (2) a multiple traffic light label, (3) a monochrome Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) label, (4) a coloured GDA label and (5) a "no label" condition. In the first task they had to identify the healthier food items in 28 pair-wise comparisons of foods from different food groups. In the second task they were asked to select food portions from a range of foods to compose a one-day's consumption. Differences between means were analysed using ANOVAs.

Results: Task I: Experimental conditions differed significantly in the number of correct decisions (p < 0.001). In the condition "no label" subjects had least correct decisions (20.2 +/- 3.2), in the traffic light condition most correct decisions were made (24.8 +/- 2.4). Task II: Envisaged daily food consumption did not differ significantly between the experimental conditions.

Conclusion: Different food label formats differ in the understanding of consumers. The current study shows, that German adults profit most from the multiple traffic light labels. Perceived healthiness of foods is influenced by this label format most often. Nevertheless, such changes in perceived healthiness are unlikely to influence food choice and consumption. Attempts to establish the informed consumer with the hope that informed choices will be healthier choices are unlikely to change consumer behaviour and will not result in the desired contribution to the prevention of obesity and diet related diseases.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Choice Behavior
  • Consumer Health Information / methods*
  • Diet*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Food Labeling / methods*
  • Germany
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Sex Factors