Traffic light labels: to help foods show their true colours

traffic light labelling © foodwatch/

The problem

In the EU a staggering 60 per cent of all adults and 20 per cent of school-age children can be classified as overweight or even obese. Furthermore, millions of people suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension). These problems are costing healthcare systems billions of euros – and they can be traced back to poor nutrition. However, in order to choose the right foods for a healthy diet, consumers need to know how much sugar, fat and salt various food products contain. Many food manufacturers profit from making the nutritional data for their products appear healthier than they really are: with confusing percentages and misleading portion sizes on their labels, even foods with extremely high sugar contents can be made to look like healthy snacks.

What foodwatch is calling for

Nutritional information must be clear and understandable – even at a glance – and printed on the front of food packages. Furthermore, consumers must be able to compare products easily. The traffic light labelling scheme developed in the UK meets all of these requirements: instead of figures based on unrealistic portion sizes, all nutritional information is expressed in grams per 100-gram reference value – making it easy to compare products – and thanks to traffic light colour coding, information provided on the levels of the key nutrients fat, sugar and salt are extremely easy to interpret. Green stands for low, amber for medium and red for high levels of the respective nutrient. foodwatch is calling for the mandatory introduction of traffic light labelling for packaged foods.

The current situation

Scientific studies have proved it: traffic light labelling is the single most understandable food label format. Medical associations and health insurance companies have spoken out in favour of this system, as have patients’ groups and consumer organisations. However, the European policy makers, under massive pressure from the food industry lobby, voted against the red-amber-green system. Decisions like this will not solve the problem. Therefore, we have no doubt: the traffic light will come. And sooner or later the issue will be back at the top of the agenda.

Barry wants to lose weight (Traffic Lights. Colour your food.)

Last update March 04, 2013