If people are going to change their eating habits, foods should be labeled with the amount of exercise it would require to burn the calories found in a serving, argues an expert in The BMJ today.
Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive at the Royal Society of Public Health, says giving consumers an immediate link between foods' calorie content and physical activity might help to reduce obesity.
With more than two-thirds of the UK population either overweight or obese, she said, "we desperately need innovative initiatives to change behaviour at population level." Yet little evidence indicates that the current information on food and drink packaging, including traffic light labeling, actually changes behaviour.
The Royal Society for Public Health has therefore called for the introduction of "activity equivalent" calorie labeling.
Symbols could show the minutes of several different physical activities that would be equivalent in calories expended to the calories in the product.
The objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the calories they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, and to encourage them to be more physically active.
Public polling by the society has shown that almost half (44%) of people find current front of pack information confusing. And more than half (53%) said that they would positively change their behaviour as a result of viewing activity equivalent calorie information, including choosing healthier products, eating smaller portions or doing more physical exercise, all of which could help counter obesity.
It takes 26 minutes of walking to burn off a can of soda
For example, the calories in a can of sugar-sweetened soft drink takes a person of average age and weight about 26 minutes to walk off. Given its simplicity, activity equivalent calorie labeling offers a recognizable reference that is accessible to everyone.
The Royal Society of Public Health acknowledges that messages of the importance of healthy and varied eating must also continue -- and that some concerns have been raised about possible negative implications for people with eating disorders.
The Society calls for detailed research to explore the potential effects of activity labeling on consumer choices, including potential harms. And if it is shown to be an effective means to influence consumers' decisions, the experts say, "we would implore law makers and industry to implement it to reduce obesity in the UK".
Source: BMJ, April 6, 2016.
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