NOTE TO READERS: When this project lost substantial funding at the end of 2018, I lost the ability to continue publishing criteria-driven news story reviews and PR news release reviews - once the bread-and-butter of the site going back to 2006. The 3,200 archived reviews, while still educational, are getting old and difficult for me to technically maintain on the back end of the website. So I am announcing that I plan to remove these reviews from the site by April 1, 2021. The blog and the toolkit - two of the most popular features on the site - will remain. If you wish to peruse the reviews before they disappear, please do so by the end of March 2021. After that date you may still be able to access them via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine - https://archive.org/web/.

Food choice & traffic lights

Posted By

Categories

Tags

The following is a guest post from Harold DeMonaco, MS, one of our story reviewers on HealthNewsReview.org.  The opinions are his.

—————————————————————————

In April of this year, I wrote a guest blog post in which I suggested that healthcare workers did not seem to be very good role models with regard to obesity.  While a number of interventions have been attempted (including Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on giant soft drinks in New Your City, labeling food calorie content and others), most have not produced repeatable results. At the risk of being accused of serving as an arm of marketing for the Massachusetts General Hospital, I want to point out a rather interesting study.

The August edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine includes an article (link to pdf file) by researchers at the MGH that adds a bit of new information to our understanding of how to deal with the obesity epidemic.

The idea under study is appealingly simple; color coding food choices in the hospital’s cafeteria.  In addition, the display placement of healthy choices was optimized.

The study examined in purchases of about 4600 employees over a 9 month period, starting prior to the introduction of the “traffic light” labeling program, followed by the food placement changes.  The results were recorded based on employee’s self-identification of ethnicity.

Here are the results:

Employees self-identif?ed as white (73%); black (10%); Latino (7%); and Asian (10%).

Compared to White employees, Latino and Black employees purchased a higher percentage of red items at baseline (18%, 28% and 33%respectively, p<0.01.  Labeling decreased all employees’ red item purchases (–11.2%,95%CI_–13.6%,–8.9%)and increased green purchases (6.6%,95%CI_5.2%,7.9%). Red beverage purchases decreased most (–23.8%,95%CI_–28.1%,–19.6%). The choice architecture intervention further decreased red purchases after the labeling. Intervention effects were similar across all race/ethnicity and job types (p_0.05 for interaction between race or job type and intervention).

Mean calories per beverage decreased similarly over the study period for all racial groups and job types, with no increase in per-beverage spending.

The authors concluded:

Despite baseline differences in healthy food purchases, a simple color-coded labeling and choice architecture intervention improved food and beverage choices among employees from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Of course, no single study is definitive and it remains to be seen if the results are reproducible in other healthcare and non-healthcare settings.  But would it not be interesting to see what would happen if this system were implemented in fast food franchises?

——————————-

Note:  Katherine Harmon also reported on the study for Scientific American.

You might also like

Comments

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Comments are closed.