Traffic Light-Labeling for Lowers Calorie Intake in Hospital Employees

Hospital employee cafeterias that used a “traffic light” system for calorie reduction was associated with a decrease in caloric intake among hospital staff, according to a new study in JAMA.

The researchers for this cohort study of 5,695 hospital employees who used workplace cafeterias. The focused on cafeterias that used a traffic light-labeling system (green for health, yellow for less health, and red for least healthy). They also looked at choice architecture and changes in product placement within the facilities. The primary outcome measure was the change in employees’ calorie count from baseline to the same quarter at one year and at two years.

According to the study results, the estimated reduction in calories was the equivalent of 2 kg (4.4 pounds) over time, despite the data also suggestion that patients gained an average of about two pounds per year. The largest decrease in kilocalories (kcal) was on red-labeled items, decreasing 42 kcal per transaction (from a mean of 183 kcal per transaction at baseline, P<0.001) in the two-year study period.

“More workplaces should be doing these kind of interventions,” study author Anne N. Thorndike, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a press release. “Wellness programs typically end after a certain period, but programs like this, that people are exposed to every day when they go to work, become part of the workplace culture. That’s how you get people to make long-term changes.”