Members of the public may only benefit from paying attention to nutritional labelling schemes that adopt use of reference point information about the product's ingredients, researchers have suggested.
A new study published in the journal Appetite, which was reported by Food Navigator, said information about fat and calorie contents in certain foods can only have a significant impact on consumers if they have something to compare it to.
Researchers said many methods of labelling food products differ in how they provide reference points for specific ingredients. For example, nutrient labels only provide content levels and no reference point information.
On the other hand, traffic light labelling provides nutrient-level reference points, which could be more beneficial for customers in the long term.
Scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands investigated the ability of different types of nutrition labelling schemes to inform the public about how healthy or unhealthy their food choices may be.
Commenting on the findings, Erica van Herpen - leader of the study - said the multiple traffic light label appears to be the most beneficial, as it can communicate healthfulness across and within product categories.
"Although other types of labelling schemes are also capable of communicating healthfulness, labelling schemes lacking reference point information are less effective when no comparison product is available and labelling schemes based on overall product healthfulness within the category can diminish consumers' ability to differentiate between categories, leading to a potential misinterpretation of product healthfulness," she added.
This study into the effectiveness of food labels in changing consumer shopping habits is the latest in a long line of investigations - with the potential rolling out of country of origin labelling across the European Union a particular cause for concern for some countries.
European fats and oils manufacturers are the latest group to voice their worries about the scheme, claiming some businesses may be forced to close if the legislation gets the green light.