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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Apr;23(4):786-92. doi: 10.1002/oby.21027. Epub 2015 Mar 9.

Nutrition labels influence value computation of food products in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Epileptology, University Hospital Bonn, Bonn, Germany; Center for Economics and Neuroscience, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany.



Prevalence of obesity is high in most industrialized nations, and therefore, it is crucial to understand contextual factors underlying food choice. Nutrition labels are public policy interventions designed to adequately inform consumers about nutritional value and overall healthiness of food products. The present study examines how different nutrition labels, namely a purely information-based label (guideline daily amount, GDA) and a more explicit traffic light (TL) label, influence product valuation and choice in a functional MRI setting.


Thirty-five healthy participants across different BMIs were instructed to valuate healthy and unhealthy food products in combination with one of the two labels and to state their willingness to pay (WTP) for the product.


The labeling methods significantly influenced participants' WTP. Red TL signaling activated parts of the left inferior frontal gyrus/dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region implicated in self-control in food choice. This region, in the case of red signaling, and the posterior cingulate cortex, in the case of green signaling, showed increased coupling to the valuation system in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.


Our results suggest that explicitly directing attention toward nutritional values using salient nutrition labels triggers neurobiological processes that resemble those utilized by successful dieters choosing healthier products.

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