Facts Up Front Versus Traffic Light Food Labels

A Randomized Controlled Trial

This study assesses participants’ ability to understand different front-of-package nutrition labeling systems. This study specifically compares Facts Up Front, which displays grams/milligrams and percentage daily value information for various nutrients, to Traffic Light, which uses a color-coded scheme to indicate low, medium, and high levels of certain nutrients.

Participants included 703 adults, recruited through an online database in May 2011, who participated in the online, randomized controlled trial study. Participants were randomly assigned to five groups: 1) no label; 2) Traffic Light; 3) Traffic Light plus information about protein and fiber (Traffic Light +); 4) Facts Up Front; or 5) Facts Up Front, plus information about “nutrients to encourage” (Facts Up Front +). Results analyzed included participants’ ability to compare two foods on their nutrient levels by viewing the front-of-package label.

Key Findings:

  • All groups outperformed the no-label group.
  • The Traffic Light + group performed the best overall, scoring more than 80 percent on all quizzes.
  • The control group and the Facts Up Front group did not differ on the saturated fat quiz.
  • The control group and the Facts Up Front + group did not differ on the sugars quiz.
  • In label interpretation and understanding, the Traffic Light + label was scored significantly higher than other labels.

This study suggests that incorporating a color-coded traffic light scheme may improve the effectiveness of the U.S. food and beverage industry’s Facts Up Front.