International nutrition label news: US women are reading labels but UK ‘traffic light’ labelling’s off to shaky start

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 26th June 2013

The new ‘traffic light’ food labelling system has been launched in the UK, but some experts have suggested cereal manufacturers are unlikely to implement the voluntary system. Meanwhile, in the US, researchers have found that food labels may need to be gender specific, as women in the US read nutrition labels more often and more thoroughly than men.

This coincides with Australian Food News’ recent reports of the government proposal in Australia for a new front of pack nutritional rating labelling system, as well as the food industry’s response.

UK ‘traffic light’ food labelling

The UK Department of Health (DoH) has launched its new voluntary ‘traffic light’ front of pack food labelling (FoPL) system. Major cereal manufacturers such as Kellogg’s, Nestle and General Mills have said they are reviewing the system in order to decide whether they will use it on their products, but experts have expressed doubt the companies will sign up.

The new labelling system is colour-coded red, amber and green, and the UK DoH said it is designed to help consumers see ‘at a glance’ what is in their food. The label also highlights ‘percentage reference intakes’ (formerly known as guideline daily amounts) to show how much fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars, and energy is in a food product.

The voluntary FoPL cannot be given in isolation. It must be provided in addition to the full mandatory ‘back of pack’ nutrition declaration.

Red is used to show the food or drink is high in a particular nutrient that should be eaten less often or in small amounts; amber to show it contains a medium amount (the UK DoH said a food containing mostly amber can be eaten “most of the time”); and green to show the food is low in ‘unhealthy’ nutrients.

Australian Food News reported in October 2012 that the UK’s ‘traffic light’ food labelling system had proved contentious both in the UK and elsewhere.

Food label use study in US

Meanwhile, the US food label use study from the University of Alabama has found that food labels that target consumers by gender might be beneficial.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and featured in the May issue of Food Nutrition and Science, looked at a sample of 573 men and 809 women between the ages of 19 and 70 and found that women are more likely to use the Nutrition Facts label, health claims, ingredient lists and serving sizes than men when making decisions about food products.

Older adults and adults with “good diet-quality perception” were also more likely to make use of food labels when choosing food products.

Race was also a significant predictor of food label use – but only for men. Mexican-American and other Hispanic groups check and use food labels more frequently than non-Hispanic white men.

“The findings of this study could be used to improve nutrition education efforts. It may be beneficial to target men and women separately, as food label use determinants are different,” said the study’s authors said.

UK traffic light nutrition labelling example