Young people’s views and understanding of traffic light and physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) food labels
PACE labelling may be easier for young people to understand, more appealing and more useful than traffic light labelling, and may help young people choose healthier food and drinks.
Childhood obesity is a public health challenge. Food labelling may help children make healthier food choices, but typically uses the traffic light label system, which is complex to understand.
We worked with ten secondary schools across the Midlands, UK, which sent an online questionnaire to students aged between 12-18 years. The questionnaire investigated views and understanding of traffic light and PACE food labels and was sent to around 7,000 young people, 808 responded.
We found that PACE labelling may be easier for children to understand, more appealing and more useful than traffic light labelling. This may be because it contextualises the energy content of food and drinks. PACE labelling may help young people choose healthier food and drinks and reduce excess energy consumption. The young people that responded to our questionnaire thought that PACE labels could be useful in a range of food settings and on a range of food and drinks.
More students reported PACE labels as easier to understand than traffic light labels (69% vs 31%), and 52% said PACE labels would make it easier for them to choose healthy food and drinks.
Of those who had seen traffic light labels, only 19% looked at them often or always, while 42% of participants reported they would look at PACE labels often or always. The most common reason that participants gave for not looking at food labels is because they are not interested in making healthy choices.
The findings provide important information about the views of food labels among young people in the UK. Research is now needed to understand the impact of PACE labelling among young people in real eating settings such as in school canteens where they make food selections every day.
Iris N, Munir F, Daley AJ, 2023. Examining young people’s views and understanding of traffic light and physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) food labels. BMC Public Health 23, 1143 (2023). DOI: 10.1186/s12889-023-16019-6
We thank the young people and schools who took part in the study.
Natalia Iris was funded by a PhD studentship from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (ES/P000711/1). Amanda Daley was supported by a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) research professorship award. The study was also supported by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre which is a partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Loughborough University, and the University of Leicester. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders. The funders had no role in the study design or in the collection, analysis, interpretation of data, writing of the report, or decision to submit the article for publication.