Label foods to show how much exercise they could fuel: study
Published Thursday, April 7, 2016 2:42PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 7, 2016 3:28PM EDT
If you knew the can of pop you were about to crack open would take 26 minutes of walking to burn off, would you still drink it? British health experts think many of us might give it a second thought if food labels did a better job putting calories into the context of exercise.
That’s why the head of U.K.’s Royal Society of Public Health is calling for new labels on packaged food that would include icons explaining both a food’s calorie content and the physical activity needed to burn them off.
Writing in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), Shirley Cramer, the chief executive at the Royal Society of Public Health, says she hopes the labels would be one more tool to help in the fight to reduce obesity.
The symbols could show the amount of different physical activities, in minutes, that would burn the equivalent number of calories in the product.
The hope, she says, is that people would be prompted to be more mindful of the energy they consume and would also encourage them to be more physically active.
"Given its simplicity, activity equivalent calorie labelling offers a recognizable reference that is accessible to everyone," she said in a statement.
Cramer writes that people generally find symbols easier to understand than charts and numbers, and that the “activity equivalent calorie labels” would be easy to understand for lower socioeconomic groups, who often lack good health knowledge.
“What we want to prompt people to do is to think differently,” Cramer said. “It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have a chocolate bar, but you might have one rather than two.”
She acknowledged that people “can’t out-run a bad diet,” meaning it’s still important for people to reduce their calorie intake. But she says messages about the importance of healthy eating would still need to continue.
David Just, a Cornell University professor who’s published articles about portion size and other eating habits, agrees that these new label types would be easier to understand.
“We understand pretty well what a minute of exercise is, or an hour of exercise is,” said Just. “So in that sense, it’s actually communicating much more clearly.”
Others, though, warn of the potential pitfalls of this type of labelling.
Dietitian Christy Brissette said she supports the proposal, but is concerned it might actually encourage unhealthy eating habits.
“The opposite way people could use the information is to justify overeating,” Brissette told CTV News Channel. “So they might think, oh if I eat this little bit extra, I’ll just spend a few minutes extra at the gym.”
Brissette said that it’s often difficult to accurately assess the effects of exercise.
“What I see with my clients is that people tend to underestimate how many calories they’re eating and overestimate how much they’re burning off when they’re working out.”