Food labels with caloric-burning costs could lead to healthier choices

December 16, 2019 in Nutrition Labeling, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Food labels with caloric-burning costs could lead to healthier choices

Consumers might make healthier choices if food labels showed how many minutes of walking or running was needed to burn off calories, instead of just a calorie number, a new study from Loughborough University in the UK suggests. 

A pooled analysis of 14 randomized trials found that labels with activity times prompted consumers to eat 65 calories fewer per meal than labels that simply listed calorie content.

Labels with “physical activity calorie equivalent or expenditure,” or PACE, were illustrated with drawings of a runner and a walker, each accompanied by an estimate of how many minutes would be needed in that activity to burn off the calories in the labeled food. 

About the study

To determine if the type of labeling makes a difference in consumer food choices, the research team scoured the medical literature for trials that compared PACE labeling to standard labels with just a calorie count or no calorie information at all. 

The 14 studies they included in the current analysis presented food or gave menus of food options to participants with and without PACE labeling, or the studies presented PACE labeling versus calories only or versus traffic light labeling. And they asked participants what they would like to eat for a snack or for lunch or dinner and so on.

When PACE labeling was displayed on foods, drinks and menus, people consumed an average of 64.9 calories less per meal than when only calorie counts were displayed. 

More evidence needed

While it’s an interesting concept, experts say we don’t have enough evidence to say whether it’s going to be effective. More trials are needed.

Plus, the emphasis on calories might not be the best way to get people to eat healthier since there’s no information on food quality.  Certain foods that are nutrient dense are also calorie dense, such as nuts, avocados, figs, beans and lentils.

Source: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, online December 10, 2019.

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