Objective: We surveyed customers in a hospital cafeteria in Boston, Massachusetts before and after implementation of traffic light food labeling to determine the effect of labels on customers' awareness and purchase of healthy foods.
Methods: Cafeteria items were identified as red (unhealthy), yellow (less healthy), or green (healthy). Customers were interviewed before (N=166) and after (N=223) labeling was implemented. Each respondent was linked to cash register data to determine the proportion of red, yellow, and green items purchased. Data were collected from February-April 2010. We compared responses to survey questions and mean proportion of red, yellow, and green items per transaction between customers interviewed during baseline and customers interviewed during the intervention. Survey response rate was 60%.
Results: Comparing responses during labeling intervention to baseline, more respondents identified health/nutrition as an important factor in their purchase (61% vs. 46%, p=0.004) and reported looking at nutrition information (33% vs. 15%, p<0.001). Respondents who noticed labels during the intervention and reported that labels influenced their purchases were more likely to purchase healthier items than respondents who did not notice labels (p<0.001 for both).
Conclusion: Traffic light food labels prompted individuals to consider their health and to make healthier choices at point-of-purchase.
Keywords: Food labeling; Nutrition labeling; Obesity.