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Color-Coded Nutrition Labels for Healthy Purchases

Color-coded labels and warnings linked to more healthful purchases.

Graphic of color-coded nutrition labels

A new meta-analysis in PLOS Medicine dug into the findings of 134 studies over 30 years—all about the impact of the color-coded nutrition labels and warnings on food packaging. The review indicates that labels do indeed appear to encourage consumers to purchase more nutritionally beneficial products. These labels may employ color coding to indicate nutrition, or they may warn consumers about unhealthful features of certain products. The labeling initiatives nudged consumers towards foods and drinks with lower levels of calories, saturated fat and sodium.

Color-coded labels appeared to be more beneficial in promoting healthful purchases, whereas warning labels were more effective in discouraging unhealthy purchases.

A handful of countries have introduced mandatory front-of-package labeling to improve people’s diets and reduce the caseload of diseases associated with poor diets. Perhaps you may see more of this style of food packaging labeling in the supermarket in the future. Who knows? It may spur on the reformulation of products by the food industry to sidestep the warning call.

See also: Label Limbo

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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