by Marion Nestle
Dec 17 2009

Do traffic-light labels work? Maybe not.

A new study from the U.K. suggests that traffic-light labels on food products are not inducing people to choose healthier options.  The study contradicts the results of a previous study by the British Food Standards Agency, which found the traffic-light labels to be preferred by consumers, of use to them, and a stimulant to manufacturers to reformulate products to qualify for more of those little green dots.

While the arguments go on, and the FDA and the Institute of Medicine conduct their own studies of front-of-package labeling, and the FTC establishes its own standards for advertising, I have a suggestion: How about removing ALL health and nutrition claims from junk foods.

How about trying to think about foods as foods, not drugs.  Let food packages carry Nutrition Facts labels and lists of ingredients, but that’s all.  It would save everyone a lot of trouble.  Federal agencies could get back to worrying about more important things.  City and state attorneys could too.  And consumers would no longer be misled by absurd claims that cereals or snacks will make people healthy.

Just a thought.

  • Mark LaFountain


  • Anthro

    A very good thought. And so simple

    Sadly, I know some very well-to-do people who own shares in “Big Food” companies. These people vote and give large sums to political campaigns. Hmmmm…what’s wrong with this picture?

    I do not own any shares in any food production companies.

  • Best. Idea. Ever. Second suggestion: Among the more important ideas the government should be worrying about is cooking instructions, which no one checks. (Remember the awful cooking instructions on the pot pies that caused so much injury?)

  • Great idea, I am all for a “no claims” approach. The caveat (and food companies love caveats) would be the criteria for defining a “junk food.”

  • Anthro

    @Lauren Slayton – That’s a very good point and something I wondered about as well. Perhaps “no claims” for any packaged food–period. After all, no food, in isolation, is the end-all for nutrition.

  • The First Amendment; The Right of Free Speech would be a barrier, unfortunately.

  • Emily

    So true! Anything that comes in a box should probably also come with a warning label.