By Dr. Brian McDonough

By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital say that food labeling could be made much easier if only a stop light method was put in place. That’s right: green, yellow and red food labels lead to long-term improvements in the selection of healthier food items.

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The researchers conducted a cafeteria food study that had two parts:

The first was use of the “traffic light” labels, in which “green” signified the healthiest items “yellow” was used for less healthy items, and “red” for foods with little or no nutritional value.

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Cafeteria cash registers recorded how many foods of each color were purchased.

The second part was also crucial – the placement of food. Healthier items were placed at eye-level and less healthy items at lower levels.

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After the first six months, there was a 12 percent increase in the purchase of “green” items and a 20 percent decrease in the purchase of “red” items. The results have held for two years