A new meta-analysis led by Queen Mary University of London has integrated the findings of 134 studies about the impact on consumer choice of color-coded nutrition labels and warnings from the front of food packaging.
The results of the analysis suggest that color-coded nutrition labels encourage people to make healthful purchases, while warning labels discourage customers to buy less healthy products. Thus, both labeling strategies appear to be highly beneficial for public health.
Some countries have introduced mandatory labels on the front of food products that show their nutritional values, or warn consumers about some unhealthy features that the products might have. Officials hope that such labeling strategies might help reduce the burden of disease associated to poor diets, and thus have an important impact on public health.
In order to clarify how four different types of front-of-package nutrition and warning labels influence consumer choice, Jing Song, a doctoral student at Queen Mary University, and his research team, conducted a network meta-analysis of data collected from 134 peer-reviewed studies published between January 1990 and May 2021. Their analysis showed that all four labeling systems seemed to have significant advantages in encouraging consumers to buy healthier products.
“This study found that color-coded labels and warning labels are all able to direct consumers towards more healthful purchase behavior,” explained the study authors. “Color-coded labels can promote the purchase of more healthful products, while warning labels discourage the purchase of less healthful products.”
A better understanding of the nutritional qualities of each product appeared to influence consumers to select foods and drinks with lower levels of energy, sodium, fats, and saturated fats. The findings can help refine policies of food labeling in order to improve public health, and perhaps also provide guidance to the food industry to reformulate some of their less healthy products.
The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.