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I recently came across an interesting study conducted in the Massachusetts General Hospital. In the hospital cafeteria they labeled food items with green and red stickers. Those given green stickers were deemed healthier and those with red were considered unhealthy. Additionally, the healthier items were placed more conveniently for customs and were advertised more obviously. On the contrary, red sticker items were put in hard to reach locations around the cafeteria.

The study ran for almost two years. The results showed that “the number of red items purchased during the study period decreased from 24% at the baseline to 21% at both the 12 and 24-month follow-ups. The biggest decrease was seen in red-labeled beverages (such as regular soda) – from 27% at baseline to 18% at 24 months. Sales of green items increased from 41% to 46%.” In other words, the cafeteria customers purchased a pretty significant amount more of healthier foods and more water during the study period. Potentially, this could have an abundant amount of health benefits.

This made me think what we could do on a similar scale. On campus, most menus have little labels that depict if its “M-Healthy” or not. I wonder how this affects decision making. On a smaller scale, perhaps this could be done at home. It would be a great way to teach younger people healthy decision making.

What are your thoughts?

The CNN article: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/07/red-light-green-light-food-choice-made-easier/

4 Responses to “Food Choice: Red Light, Green Light”

  1. alimeisel says:

    I think this is a great idea, but we would have to make sure the people assigning which foods get which labels are trustworthy. Although it would be ideal if everyone looked into what they were eating and figured out what was healthy for themselves, most people trust the decisions of others. In this way, the people assigning the labels have a huge responsibility. I do feel like I’m more likely to buy items that are “MHealthy.” These foods generally fit my mental framework of what ‘healthy’ is, and I assume that because they have the label, they’re even more healthy than I think they are. I don’t know if this will actually lead to healthier people, but the power of advertising and presentation is important to acknowledge when considering the health of the public.

  2. annakai says:

    Yes I agree, although it would definitely be a stretch to say that this could solve the obesity epidemic, I still think that it is a great way to get consumers to start choosing healthier foods. In fact, about a year ago the grocery store from my hometown took a similar approach. Normally the check out aisle is stocked with candy and sweets and all sorts of unhealthy snacks, but my grocery store replaced all of the candy in the check-out line with bananas, apples, and protein bars. Clearly they were targeting those last-minute impulse buys we make when unloading our groceries on the conveyor belt, and it would be interesting to ask the supermarket if they had any data on how big of an impact their check-out aisle swap made on overall candy purchasing.

  3. corriegoldberg says:

    I definitely concur that if food products were appropriately and accurately assigned more noticeable food labels, the consumption of less healthy foods would decline. Last year living in on campus housing, I ate almost all my meals at dining halls. I tried to eat as healthy as I could, but the “Mhealthy” information felt much more limited to be than I would have liked. I noticed that when I looked up nutritional facts about every meal on the Michigan Dining Hall’s website, the information available was much detailed. If they could implement all of the information that is available online to the dining halls, I think my choices, and the choices of my peers, would be positively impacted. Also, in speaking of the success the study had with the increase in water consumption, I do not believe that the dining halls need to have so many fountain soda machines. Personally, last year when I had the choice of drinking water or drinking a soda beverage right next to me, many of the times choose the soda option. However this year I live in a house where the beverage options at dinner or water and juices, and I am much happier now drinking more water than soda. Overall I think that limiting the unhealthy options in dining halls or making them more clearly labeled would have a positive impact on students’ diets.

  4. llituchy says:

    Possibly, by labeling the foods with red and green stickers, the hospital almost pressures people into choosing the healthier choice, which is why unhealthy foods purchased decreased. With these specific labels, it clearly gives the stickers a greater meaning where green means good and red means bad. Maybe, people choose the “green” option over the “red” option because the sticker labeling gives it a certain negative stigma that the buyers don’t want to be associated with. We don’t need a sticker to tell us that a salad is a healthier option than a piece of cake. But once the sticker is there, it potentially makes people feel guiltier about wanting to buy unhealthy foods, and therefore to avoid the embarrassment associated with a red label, they pick the healthier choice.

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