Soda bans vs. soda traffic lights
August 10, 2012 Leave a comment
Well, limiting the size of soda containers probably won’t be all that effective, but some interesting research suggests a simple: green, yellow, red labeling system might have some meaningful impact. Via the Atlantic:
Data released this week by the Massachusetts General Hospital describes the efficacy of a stoplight-style color-coding systemthat researchers applied to foods and beverages sold to hospital cafeteria-goers. Products were labeled as red, yellow, or green according to three main indicators:
- How many of the item’s main ingredients contained either fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or low-fat dairy?
- Did the item have a lot of saturated fat?
- Did the item have a high caloric content?
Items that had healthier ingredients and less of the bad stuff were given a green label that advised diners to “consume often.” Items that had good and bad in equal proportions were given a yellow label; customers were told to consume these products “less often.” Items with a great deal of calories and saturated fat were given a red label. “There is a better choice in green or yellow,” diners were told. After launching the labeling system, the researchers then took the added step of moving things around so that the green-labeled items were more accessible.
After six months, the researchers found that the labeling initiative had succeeded in curbing red-item purchases, and it had even increased purchases of green products. Red-item purchases fell by 11 points. Green-item purchases rose by 6.6 points.
And the effect was especially large for beverages:
”Overall, employees’ red beverage purchases decreased 23.8 percent during the Phase-1 labeling intervention,” the study’s authors wrote, “and they further decreased by 14.2 percent during the Phase-2 choice architecture intervention.”
This sounds great to me. Let people have choices, but help steer them in the right direction. Chances of something like this actually becoming a law in most places? Pretty close to zero, I’d think. The sugar and corn (i.e., high fructose corn syrup) would presumably fight like hell to prevent it. And have the purveyors of saturated fat to help. Looking at the full article, I am annoyed that high sodium alone gets a yellow, as salt is way oversold as a dietary bad guy.