Bioethics Blogs

Will A “Red Light” Be An Effective Nudge To Stop People From Drinking Coke?

So many foods beckoning us from the grocery store shelves – but which ones are healthy for us to consume? We could study Nutritional Facts labels, but that feels as challenging as the math portion of the SAT, with so much numerical information to process. The label tells us how many calories are in the food in question – how many grams of protein, how many grams of fat, and of saturated fat (is that the good or bad fat?). It tells us how many milligrams of cholesterol and sodium, causing many Americans to wonder: is a milligram bigger or smaller than a gram? Consumers have to understand what a gram is, how many calories is too many or too few to eat. And they need to figure out what percent of any given nutrient they ought to consume at any one time.

Nutrition Facts Label Web

To our rescue, or at least the rescue of the British population – comes stoplight symbolism. Food companies are beginning to adopt a simple system of red, yellow (they call it amber in the UK), and green colors, to signal which foods people should avoid or embrace. The stoplight symbol is used to give people quick insight into numerical info about food facts – calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Food high in all five of these ingredients will reveal a red symbol under each category – five red lights – signaling that it is probably not a healthy snack. By contrast, as the National Health Service in the UK informs citizens, “If you buy a food that has all or mostly greens on the label, you know straight away that it’s a healthy choice.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.