In the US, the FDA already requires calorie counts to be shown on food packaging and restaurant menu boards so that consumers can make informed decisions about what they eat. However, this doesn’t necessarily dissuade people from choosing high calorie items. But would people think twice about some of their snack and meal choices if they knew how much they would have to exercise to burn the calories?
That’s what the Royal Society for Public Health, a British health organization, thinks. In a commentary published in the British Medical Journal, the chief executive of the organization recommended adding exercise labels to the nutrition facts panel on food packaging in the UK. Their idea is to have easily-recognizable icons (such as a person running, walking, or biking) included next to calorie counts, with the estimated number of minutes it would take performing a specific exercise to burn off a serving’s worth of calories. A 12-ounce can of Coke, for example, might show that it would take 32 minutes of brisk walking or 20 minutes of running to burn off the calories from the soda. A standard-size Snickers bar might require 56 minutes of brisk walking or 35 minutes of running.
Calories Burned by Paces Walked
This idea is not without its opponents. Dr. Susan Roberts, a scientist who studies energy metabolism at Tufts University, thinks the labels will promote the idea that exercise alone is the solution to weight loss. She argues that exercising makes people more hungry, which can actually lead to overeating, and that it’s better to focus on eating healthier foods that leave you feeling full for longer. She also thinks that some of the exercise recommendations may be unrealistic—after all, the average American adult engages in just 17 minutes of fitness activities per day, so it’s unlikely that many people will meet recommendations to, say, go for a 50-minute walk after eating a blueberry muffin.
Dr. David Just, however, argues that exercise labels could promote better eating habits. Just, who is a professor of behavioral economics and health and nutrition at Cornell, thinks that current nutrition labels can be hard for the average consumer to make sense of, and adding exercise labels would make it easier for people to understand the costs and benefits of their food choices.
The Royal Society for Public Health is calling for additional research into the potential benefits of exercise labels with the eventual goal of implementing these labels in the UK. If the exercise labeling program proves successful, it may be something for that the FDA will consider for US food labels in the future. For more information about Weight Loss and Diet visit our Weight Loss Condition Page.