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Digestible information: The impact of Multiple Traffic Light nutritional labeling in a developing country


  • Defago, Daniel
  • Geng, José F.
  • Molina, Oswaldo
  • Santa María, Diego


Bad dietary habits are among the main causes of increasing obesity and other health problems. According to the literature, information asymmetry and cognitive biases may lead to suboptimal decisions by individuals regarding food consumption. Many countries have implemented different forms of nutritional labelling in order to provide individuals with better information when making choices. We assess the Multiple Traffic Light (MTL) system, an alternative and simplified labelling format implemented in the UK. Although this system has been found to significantly improve consumer’s understanding of nutritional quality, evidence regarding its effect on actual choices is scarce and uncertain. In order to evaluate this format’s effectiveness on consumer decisions, we conduct a selection experiment with a particular sample: university students in a developing country. Our results show that the proposed nutritional labeling system has a significant positive effect on the nutritional quality of consumers’ decisions regarding snacks and beverages. These findings contribute to the existing literature in two ways. First, we prove that MTL labels can in fact modify real consumer behavior towards healthier nutritional habits, despite the difficulties faced by previous work in identifying such an effect. Second, we provide new insights on how to assess the increasing problem of bad nutrition in emerging economies.

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  • Defago, Daniel & Geng, José F. & Molina, Oswaldo & Santa María, Diego, 2017. "Digestible information: The impact of Multiple Traffic Light nutritional labeling in a developing country," MPRA Paper 79678, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:79678

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jayachandran N. Variyam & John Cawley, 2006. "Nutrition Labels and Obesity," NBER Working Papers 11956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2004.054973_3 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2008.153205_3 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2010. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 32-63, August.
    5. Kim, Sung-Yong & Nayga, Rodolfo M., Jr. & Capps, Oral, Jr., 2000. "The Effect Of Food Label Use On Nutrient Intakes: An Endogenous Switching Regression Analysis," Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Western Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 25(01), July.
    6. Andreas C. Drichoutis & Panagiotis Lazaridis & Rodolfo M. Nayga, 2005. "Nutrition knowledge and consumer use of nutritional food labels," European Review of Agricultural Economics, Foundation for the European Review of Agricultural Economics, vol. 32(1), pages 93-118, March.
    7. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2016.303301_1 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Becker, Mark W. & Bello, Nora M. & Sundar, Raghav P. & Peltier, Chad & Bix, Laura, 2015. "Front of pack labels enhance attention to nutrition information in novel and commercial brands," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 76-86.
    9. Balcombe, Kelvin & Fraser, Iain & Falco, Salvatore Di, 2010. "Traffic lights and food choice: A choice experiment examining the relationship between nutritional food labels and price," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 211-220, June.
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    More about this item


    Nutritional labeling; Developing Countries; Experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

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