A recent proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revamp food labels on packaged food for the first time in twenty years is welcome news. The new design promises to be easier to read and potentially more effective at communicating important health information to consumers. However, could the FDA do even better? For instance, Great Britain encourages front-of-package “traffic light” labels on processed foods (see Figure 1). Despite strong resistance from food industry groups, the British National Health Service believes that such labels are quite useful for consumers.
Indeed, a recent study (Thorndike et al, 2014) conducted in the United States suggests that traffic light labels might be an effective intervention for obesity. Using the cafeteria at Massachusetts General Hospital as their study site, researchers reported that sales of “red” foods decreased from 24% of food sales at the start to 20% at two years; red beverages went from 26% of beverage sales to 17% at two years. Green foods sales grew from 41% to 46%, and green beverages from 52% to 60%. The researchers concluded that, “These results suggest that simple food environment interventions can play a major role in public health policies to reduce obesity”.
What information is important to you?
What information do you feel is important to consider when purchasing food? In addition to the typical energy and nutrient content present on current food labels, what other information would you like to see? Think beyond the typical quantities represented on food labels and consider more complex food qualities. Back in 2011 the University of California, Berkeley, School of Journalism, asked this very same question in an open label design contest. Take a look at some of the contest submissions below.
Food for thought
Which of the above label designs do you like most? What unique bits of information or methods of communication do you think are most important and effective? Is there any other information that you imagine would helpful for consumers to be aware of? If so, help the FDA out and come up with a better label design!