New research: Killer-joules and traffic lights on fast food menus make for healthier choices

10 Apr 2013

Calls for Vic Govt to put fast food labelling back on the menu

A coalition of leading health agencies, partners in the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC), is calling on the Victorian Government to implement kilojoule and traffic light labelling on fast food menus in light of new research showing the combination of information can lead consumers to make healthier choices.

The research, undertaken by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at Cancer Council Victoria and the Obesity Policy Coalition, which has just been published in US journal ‘Appetite', examined the influence of five potential nutrition menu labelling models on fast food choices for an evening meal. The options included (i) no nutrition labelling, (ii) kilojoule labelling, (iii) kilojoule and percent daily intake, (iv) kilojoule labelling and traffic lights and (v) all three labelling types.

The study found there was a significant difference in the meals selected by the respondents depending on the menu option they viewed.

"The most effective options in terms of encouraging people to select the less energy-dense meals were kilojoules and kilojoules combined with traffic light labelling," said Ms Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the OPC.

"We found that giving consumers both of these pieces of information resulted in them choosing meals that were on average about 500 kilojoules less than the respondents who had no labelling information. That's a fair amount considering you would have to walk briskly for about 30 minutes to burn off 500 kilojoules.

"What it shows is that given the prevalence of fast food consumption in Victoria, an energy intake reduction of the magnitude indicated in the study has the potential to yield substantial health benefits for the population," she said.

Ms Martin urged the Victorian Government to proceed with legislation to mandate kilojoule labelling which would clearly support the positive efforts of the state-wide Healthy Together Victoria initiative.

"Victoria was the first state to announce it would introduce kilojoule labelling but it has dragged its feet and we are now lagging behind NSW, South Australia and the ACT who have all implemented it. With obesity at record levels it's time for the Victorian Government to put labelling back on the menu as part of a comprehensive approach to tackle obesity.

Under the Healthy Together initiative communities and local governments are expected to take action on healthy food environments, so it is only reasonable for the state government to do its bit to help them."

The study found that traffic light labels, which give an overall nutrition rating for each menu item of a green, amber or red light, were most commonly used by respondents in making their selections. Just over one-third of respondents (36%) presented with traffic light labels used this information when making their meal selection, one-quarter (25%) used kilojoule information when it was provided, while 20% used the available percent daily intake information in making their purchase decision.

"Traffic light labels are well understood by consumers and easy to understand at a glance. For this reason, we encourage the Victorian Government to include traffic light labels with kilojoule labelling to help support people to make healthier choices," Ms Martin said.

Research results

Menu labelling option 

Average energy content of meal selected

No labelling


Kilojoules +traffic lights +% Daily Intake


Kilojoules +% Daily Intake




Kilojoules + traffic lights


About the research

A web-based methodology was used to expose adults to one of the five randomly selected menu boards, from which respondents made their evening meal selection.1,294 Victorian adults aged 18 to 49 years who had purchased food from a fast food restaurant chain in the last month participated in the study. They were able to choose up to three items from the available main and sides, and up to two items from the available drinks and desserts, and were required to select at least one item overall. All respondents were asked to indicate what information provided on their menu board, other than the actual food and drink items, they used to make their meal selection. Responses were recorded as "yes" or "no" for the following pieces of information: price, percent daily intake, kilojoules, and healthy choice colour labels.