A simplified color-coding system represents the latest attempt to affect consumers’ food choices. However, it’s unlikely that such a system will be accepted beyond individual institutions or city governments.
New York City’s latest attempt to control the food choices of its citizens by instituting a ban on large sodas characterizes one side of the ongoing war to get consumers to become more mindful about their food intake. However, in an attempt to find a middle ground between Big Brother-style restrictions and laissez-faire (“laissez-manger”?) consumption, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital released data indicating that a simplified color-coding system applied to foods and beverages resulted in measurable changes in purchases during a six-month period. This system used stoplight colors (red = bad, yellow = caution, green = good) to provide information to hospital cafeteria workers about the nutritional and caloric values of the items they bought.
What’s the Big Idea?
Officials have long known that by using tactics commonly employed by food marketers, they can improve overall public health while providing customers with an illusion of control over their choices. Unfortunately, not all of these strategies have gone over well with the food industry or federal legislators, and a system such as Mass General’s would most likely never make it out of committee. That said, programs like these represent a kinder, gentler approach to fighting obesity and its complications by putting faith in people’s ability to make better decisions for themselves.