‘Traffic Light’ Nutrition Labels Help Consumers Make Healthier Choices

traffic light WikipediaMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Professor Dr. Bernd Weber
Heisenberg Professor
Department of Epileptology
Head – NeuroCognition | Imaging
Life&Brain Center  Board of Directors
Center for Economics and Neuroscience Bonn

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Prof. Weber: Obesity is a growing problem in most industrialized nations. One way to fight the problem is by helping consumers in their food choices, by providing them with nutritional information on the packaged products. The background for this study was to identify the effect of different ways to present the nutritional content of the food products to the subjects, i.e. with purely numerical information or with additional signals by means of a traffic light label. We find that the traffic light label influences the willingness-to-pay of subjects in that a red signal decreases the prices subjects are willing to pay, while a green signal increases it in contrast to a purely numerical information. The brain imaging data shows that the traffic light signal influences the brains valuation region of the ventromedial prefontal cortex by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which has been shown to be necessary to apply self-control in value-based choices. Hence, traffic light signals seem to implicitely make consumers focus more on the health aspect of the immediate choices.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Prof. Weber: That the context of choices plays an important role in the kind of decisions consumers make. Easy and salient signals on the food packages may make it easier for consumers to go for a healthier – less calorie dense – option.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study

Prof. Weber: Future research will have to address several important questions: do some people profit more from nutrition-labels than others, e.g. obese vs. non-obese, or higher-educated vs. lower educated people, what about children? How long-lasting are the effects of food labels on behavior? Do consumers habituate, i.e. do they get less effective with time?


Enax, L., Hu, Y., Trautner, P. and Weber, B. (2015), Nutrition labels influence value computation of food products in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Obesity. doi: 10.1002/oby.21027


MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Professor Dr. Bernd Weber (2015). ‘Traffic Light’ Nutrition Labels Help Consumers Make Healthier Choices