Repository logo

Making food labels social: The impact of colour of nutritional labels and injunctive norms on perceptions and choice of snack foods.

Published version

Repository DOI



Change log


Marteau, Theresa M 


Recent studies report that using green labels to denote healthier foods, and red to denote less healthy foods increases consumption of green- and decreases consumption of red-labelled foods. Other symbols (e.g. emoticons conveying normative approval and disapproval) could also be used to signal the healthiness and/or acceptability of consuming such products. The present study tested the combined effects of using emoticons and colours on labels amongst a nationally representative sample of the UK population (n = 955). In a 3 (emoticon expression: smiling vs. frowning vs. no emoticon) × 3 (colour label: green vs. red vs. white) ×2 (food option: chocolate bar vs. cereal bar) between-subjects experiment, participants rated the level of desirability, healthiness, tastiness, and calorific content of a snack bar they had been randomised to view. At the end they were further randomised to view one of nine possible combinations of colour and emoticon labels and asked to choose between a chocolate and a cereal bar. Regardless of label, participants rated the chocolate as tastier and more desirable when compared to the cereal bar, and the cereal bar as healthier than the chocolate bar. A series of interactions revealed that a frowning emoticon on a white background decreased perceptions of healthiness and tastiness of the cereal bar, but not the chocolate bar. In the explicit choice task selection was unaffected by label. Overall nutritional labels had limited effects on perceptions and no effects on choice of snack foods. Emoticon labels yielded stronger effects on perceptions of taste and healthiness of snacks than colour labels. Frowning emoticons may be more potent than smiling emoticons at influencing the perceived healthiness and tastiness of foods carrying health halos.



Colour labelling, Emoticons, Injunctive norms, Nutritional labelling, Choice Behavior, Color, Consumer Behavior, Fast Foods, Female, Food Labeling, Food Preferences, Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice, Humans, Internet, Male, Middle Aged, Models, Psychological, Nutrition Policy, Nutrition Surveys, Nutritive Value, Snacks, Social Marketing, Terminology as Topic, United Kingdom

Journal Title


Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Elsevier BV
Department of Health (PRP number 107001)
The study was funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme (Policy Research Unit in Behaviour and Health [PR-UN-0409- 10109]). The Department of Health had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, or interpretation. The research was conducted independently of the funders, and the views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Department of Health in England. The final version of the report and ultimate decision to submit for publication was determined by the authors.