Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Nutrition labelling

The science on front-of-package food labels

Kristy L Hawleya1 c1, Christina A Robertoa2, Marie A Bragga2, Peggy J Liua2, Marlene B Schwartza2 and Kelly D Brownella2

a1 The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, 2300 I Street NW, Washington, DC 20037, USA

a2 Department of Psychology, Yale University, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, New Haven, CT, USA


Objective The US Food and Drug Administration and Institute of Medicine are currently investigating front-of-package (FOP) food labelling systems to provide science-based guidance to the food industry. The present paper reviews the literature on FOP labelling and supermarket shelf-labelling systems published or under review by February 2011 to inform current investigations and identify areas of future research.

Design A structured search was undertaken of research studies on consumer use, understanding of, preference for, perception of and behaviours relating to FOP/shelf labelling published between January 2004 and February 2011.

Results Twenty-eight studies from a structured search met inclusion criteria. Reviewed studies examined consumer preferences, understanding and use of different labelling systems as well as label impact on purchasing patterns and industry product reformulation.

Conclusions The findings indicate that the Multiple Traffic Light system has most consistently helped consumers identify healthier products; however, additional research on different labelling systems’ abilities to influence consumer behaviour is needed.

(Received July 30 2011)

(Revised December 23 2011)

(Accepted February 07 2012)

(Online publication March 22 2012)


  • Front-of-package food labelling;
  • Nutrition labelling;
  • Obesity


c1 Corresponding author: Email