Several recent studies on the ‘traffic light system’ of food labelling show that this visual packaging warning on food products significantly affects the consumer’s choice in favour of healthier foods. Most importantly, traffic light labelling increases the right choices on a long-term basis with no evidence of label fatigue.

The result of a US study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that traffic light labelling and product placement positively changed the consumer’s choice on a sustainable level, over two years. Within this time, the sales of ‘red’ foods decreased by 4% and red beverages by 7%. At the same time, ‘green’ foods sales increased by 5% and green beverages by 8%.

Obesity is a trend that needs a long-term strategy to combat. With this in mind, this study suggests that simple food environment interventions can play a major role in public health policies to reduce obesity.

Furthermore, a study conducted in Germany proved that traffic light information helps low self-control consumers make healthier food choices within a given product category. The studies took place in a real grocery shop, and the 336 participants did not know about the purpose of the study. The traffic light system helps consumers who feel that they are struggling to resist unhealthy food.

Another study from Germany published in 2014 in the International Journal of Consumer Studies found that the traffic light labelling system made it significantly more likely that customers would choose low-fat products.

The findings of these studies are particularly relevant, as despite clear evidence, the European Parliament voted down a traffic light system for food labelling in the framework of Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to consumers. Such a system would have given consumers a visual warning for high fat, sugar or salt content of a product, designed to help consumers eat more healthily. In 2013, the UK introduced a voluntary traffic light labelling system as a means to combat rising obesity levels. So far it is the only EU Member State to do so.

Unfortunately, a number of other Member States have challenged the UK system, arguing that it is potentially misleading to consumers and may discourage them from certain products and therefore affect the ability of manufacturers to freely trade their products throughout the EU.

The European Commission is currently assessing whether the UK’s traffic light system is compatible with EU rules on the free movement of goods. This case may end up before the European Court of Justice.

EPHA calls upon the European institutions not to ignore the findings of the new studies and to give due consideration to the public interest of protecting people’s and society’s health and well-being.

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