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Examining young people’s views and understanding of traffic light and physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) food labels

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posted on 2023-09-01, 15:15 authored by Natalia Iris, Fehmidah MunirFehmidah Munir, Amanda DaleyAmanda Daley

Background: Childhood obesity is a public health challenge in many countries. Food labelling may help children make healthier food choices. Food is typically labelled using the traffic light label system but this is complex to understand. Physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labelling may be easier for children to understand and more appealing because it contextualises the energy content of food/drinks.

Methods: A cross-sectional online questionnaire was completed by 808 adolescents aged 12–18 years in England. The questionnaire investigated participants’ views and understanding of traffic light and PACE labels. Participants were also asked about their understanding of the meaning of calories. The questionnaire explored participants’ views about the potential frequency of use of PACE labels and their perceived usefulness in influencing purchasing and consumption decisions. Questions that explored participants’ views about the possible implementation of PACE labelling, preferences for food settings and types of food/drinks they may like such labelling implemented, and whether PACE labels would encourage physical activity were included. Descriptive statistics were explored. Analyses assessed associations between variables and tested differences in the proportions of views about the labels. 

Results: More participants reported PACE labels as easier to understand than traffic light labels (69% vs 31%). Of participants who had seen traffic light labels, 19% looked at them often/always. Forty-two percent of participants would look at PACE labels often/always. The most common reason why participants never/would never look at food labels is because they are not interested in making healthy choices. Fifty-two percent of participants said PACE labels would make it easier for them to choose healthy food and drinks. Fifty percent of participants reported PACE labels would encourage them to be physically active. It was perceived that PACE labels could be useful in a range of food settings and on a range of food/drinks. 

Conclusions: PACE labelling may be easier for young people to understand and more appealing/useful to them than traffic light labelling. PACE labelling may help young people choose healthier food/drinks and reduce excess energy consumption. Research is now needed to understand the impact of PACE labelling on food choice among adolescents in real eating settings.


Midlands Graduate School Doctoral Training Partnership

Economic and Social Research Council

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National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) research professorship award

NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre which is a partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Loughborough University, and the University of Leicester



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

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BMC Public Health




BioMed Central


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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

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Natalia Iris. Deposit date: 30 August 2023

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