Impact of front-of-pack 'traffic-light' nutrition labelling on consumer food purchases in the UK
Sacks G., Rayner M., Swinburn B.
Front-of-pack 'traffic-light' nutrition labelling has been widely proposed as a tool to improve public health nutrition. This study examined changes to consumer food purchases after the introduction of traffic-light labels with the aim of assessing the impact of the labels on the 'healthiness' of foods purchased. The study examined sales data from a major UK retailer in 2007. We analysed products in two categories ('ready meals' and sandwiches), investigating the percentage change in sales 4 weeks before and after traffic-light labels were introduced, and taking into account seasonality, product promotions and product life-cycle. We investigated whether changes in sales were related to the healthiness of products. All products that were not new and not on promotion immediately before or after the introduction of traffic-light labels were selected for the analysis (n = 6 for ready meals and n = 12 for sandwiches). For the selected ready-meals, sales increased (by 2.4 of category sales) in the 4 weeks after the introduction of traffic-light labels, whereas sales of the selected sandwiches did not change significantly. Critically, there was no association between changes in product sales and the healthiness of the products. This short-term study based on a small number of ready meals and sandwiches found that the introduction of a system of four traffic-light labels had no discernable effect on the relative healthiness of consumer purchases. Further research on the influence of nutrition signposting will be needed before this labelling format can be considered a promising public health intervention.