The traffic light colours on food packaging warning us of the nutrient contents of our food are in place to influence our decisions positively and cause us to opt for more nutrient-rich and health promoting foods. However, the latest research shows that the colours used are so influential that using green labels on junk food can warp our perceptions of the nutrient value of the food because we associate the colour green with health and vitality.
Research suggests that the colour of calorie labels is more influential than the descriptive content on the back of the packet. The study from which this is taken tested participants view of the exact same bar of chocolate but one had the calorie per serving content in green and the other in red. Participants perceived the red labelled bar to be the least healthy, despite the fact that they were identical.
Colour psychology may affect our food choices and our appetites more than we think. Green is associated with nature and health, whereas red labelling is a popular colour choice for fast food chains and junk food packaging. This is because it is associated with increasing appetite and energy levels. However, in terms of red labels for nutrition, the colour red is associated with ‘stop/danger’ warning us of high salt, high saturated fat and high calorie foods.
Schuldt JP, Does Green Mean Healthy? Nutrition Label Colour Affects Perceptions of Healthfulness, Health Communication, 2013.