In a bid to encourage diners to lower their caloric intake, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires most chain restaurants to state the number of calories that each menu item contains. But it is not the only effective way of helping consumers make low-calorie choices.
Numbers or graphics can also encourage people to eat less, suggested a team of researchers. The researchers revealed that an image of a green, yellow, or red traffic light, can be just as effective to indicate calorie information.
The authors Eric M. VanEpps (Carnegie Mellon University), Julie S. Downs (Carnegie Mellon University), and George Loewenstein (Carnegie Mellon University) observed that either numbers or traffic lights have the same beneficial effect when it comes to taking in fewer calories. The team found that either method resulted in food choices that contained 10% fewer calories.
Although providing calorie information in the form of numbers may seem like the best option, policymakers should also consider that not all consumers are adept at interpreting numbers. The authors wrote, "For those consumers, traffic light labels can communicate basic 'eat this, not that' information regardless of their understanding of the underlying nutrients or ability to use numeric information."
The study appeared in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.