Food

Will People Lose Weight if Labels Show How Long it Takes to Burn Off Calories?

Your choices might change if food packaging displays how long you’ll have to bike, swim, or run to maintain your size.

Reading a nutrition label on food packaging with fresh salad background
Photo Credit: Brian A Jackson

It’s one thing to know how many calories a chocolate bar, bag of chips, or serving of mac and cheese contains, but quite another to know how many minutes of exercise it would take to burn it off. Will it take 20 minutes to 50 minutes? Even longer?

Adding that information to food and drink labels could help people avoid packing on the pounds, according to a policy paper published Friday by the Royal Society for Public Health. The British health agency found that introducing “activity-equivalent calorie labels” helps people stop underestimating how long it will take them to work off something they’ve eaten.

The need for the labels is certainly there: Nearly 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization. 

“Although nutritional information provided on food and drink packaging has improved, it is evident that it isn’t working as well as it could to support the public in making healthy choices,” said Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the society, in a statement. “Activity-equivalent calorie labeling provides a simple means of making the calories contained within food and drink more relatable to people’s everyday lives, while also gently reminding consumers of the need to maintain active lifestyles and a healthy weight.”

The health organization shared sample images of the labels, which show consumers how many minutes they’d have to bike, swim, or run if they choose to eat a particular item. People can then decide whether noshing on a bag of potato chips is worth 19 minutes of running, 23 minutes of cycling, or 13 minutes of swimming.

A survey of 2,000 adults by the society found that 63 percent would support the introduction of activity-equivalent calorie labels. More than half of respondents said seeing the labels would change their behavior. 

The public health experts wrote that people spend about six seconds looking at the package on a food item before they toss it in their shopping cart. Although some folks may be checking for sodium content or for the grams of fat in an item, the society’s researchers wrote that people are “most likely to look for total calories on food labels, rather than other forms of nutritional information.” To take advantage of the focus on caloric intake, the organization recommends that food companies alter the front of packages so that consumers can make informed decisions.

 
 
 
Reprinted from TakePart with permission. 
 
 
 

 

Liz Dwyer is culture and education editor at TakePart. She has written about race, parenting and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

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