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Warning or traffic light: what is the most efficient food labeling in Brazil?

Brazil has formally committed to the goals for the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition, and one of the steps to get there is to adopt the front-of-package warning labels. Anvisa (the National Agency of Sanitary Surveillance) has already been discussing the issue since 2014. But what is the best proposal? A study tested the effectiveness of different labeling models. Find out the result.

Dra. Neha Khandpur, Dra. Priscila de Morais Sato, Dra. Laís Amaral Mais, Dra. Ana Paula Bortoletto Martins, Dra. Carla Galvão Spinillo, Dra. Mariana Tarricone Garcia, Me. Carlos Felipe Urquizar Rojas e Dra. Patrícia Constante Jaime
May / 2018

All food packages contain, in most cases in small print, the ingredients that compose that product. But is this enough to warn consumers to what they are consuming? To fight problems such as cardiovascular diseases and obesity, caused, among other reasons, by bad food choices, Brazil has debated the implementation of front-of-package labeling, which is to include the nutritional information of the food on the front of the package of the product. There are two main models under discussion, the warning and the traffic light ones. Brazilian researchers analyzed both proposals to learn, mainly, which one was the most efficient and if this change would influence the consumers in the moment of the purchase of the food. Research has shown that front-of-package warning labels increase the chances for the population to eat healthy foods [or] to have a healthy diet and understand the nutritional content of foods.


The research participants were selected based on their social, economic, geographic and educational characteristics to represent the Brazilian population. Out of a total of 3,353 people, 1,607 replied to the full survey. The study was conducted online and aimed at stimulating supermarket shopping. Initially, consumers had to analyze food images without front-of-package labels. In the second part of the research, they randomly analyzed one of the two models studied in the packages.

  • 1.607

  • 804

    answered questions regarding the traffic-light model
  • 803

    answered questions regarding the warning model


The research showed that labels with warnings led to a 16.1% increase in the intention to buy the relatively healthier option, compared to the first stage of the research, when participants answered about their willingness to buy products without a front-of-package label. The same intention amongst those who had contact with the traffic-light model increased only 9.8%. In addition, the presence of front-of-package warning labels has improved the ability of participants to identify which products contain certain excessive nutrients. Respondents who answered questions about the warning model correctly identified 24.6% more products compared to the control (products that did not have any of the front-of-package label models), while those who saw the traffic-light model improved their ability to identify products by only 3.3%.

  • 24,6%

    of foods with triangles were correctly identified
  • 3,3%

    of products with traffic-lights were classified without errors

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