Food labelling important in overcoming “obesity epidemic”

Professor Janet Hoek

Professor Janet HoekProfessor Janet Hoek of Otago University recently visited the La Trobe School of Management to give a guest presentation on food marketing and obesity. The presentation was entitled, ‘Consumers’ Responses to Alternative Nutrition Labels’. The presentation was based on her recent experimental research into the impact of different types of food labelling and their effectiveness.

Professors Hoek’s research focused on the impact of different kinds of labels and people responses to, and understanding of nutritional labelling.

Professor Hoek’s research found that people, particularly in the ‘cluttered, noisy, and distracting environment’ of the supermarket, were most responsive to clear visual interpretations of nutritional information.

The research concluded that:

  • Numeric Front of Pack nutrition labels and especially Traffic Light Labelling (green for sound choices and red for less healthy choices) significantly affected consumer’s attitudes and behaviour
  • Graphic nutrition labels better communicated the characteristics of packaged foods
  • Manufacturer’s nutrition and health claims (substantiated or not) had a large effect on purchase choices even when the detailed nutritional information on the same pack suggested the food was less desirable

Traffic Light Labelling is a method of food labelling that rates food’s nutritional contents by colour – red for high in a particular unhealthy nutrient, amber for medium, green for low.

Dr Christopher Hodkinson, Senior Lecturer of Marketing at La Trobe’s School of Management agreed that the easily accessible information provided by the Traffic Light System would assist in the ‘rapid consumer decision making typical of the supermarket shopping environment’ and as such Professor Hoek’s findings could have important policy implications.

Professor Hoek’s previous research as been into tobacco companies marketing practises and other labelling-related health issues.

During discussions on labelling-related health issues Dr Hodkinson described the involvement of tobacco companies in the recent ‘Alliance of Australian Retailers’ campaign against generic cigarette packaging as ‘disgraceful and misleading’.

Professor Hoek agreed and expressed admiration for the Australian government’s generic cigarette pack initiative which she said was certain to have a positive long-term effect by reducing ‘smoking initiation’.