What if that label informed you it would take precisely half an hour of vigorous bike riding or an hour-long walk to “burn off” the calories inside? The prospect of exercise is a little harder to look past — and a UK health expert believes this is what it’ll take for people to make healthier choices.
Writing for the British Medical Journal, Shirley Cramer argues that labelling food and drinks with their physical activity equivalents — illustrated by simple icons — could be a “logical solution” in the effort to reduce obesity.
“The objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, and to encourage them to be more physically active,” the Royal Society of Public Health’s chief executive writes.
Would 'activity equivalent' labels change your eating? Image: iStock
"We won’t reduce obesity by focusing on diet or physical activity alone. People need to create a balanced relationship between the calories they consume and the calories they expend."
This isn't a completely new concept; we've all seen those articles and infographics detailing how many minutes of gym time a Mars bar or burger earns you ('Here, enjoy your treat with a side of self-loathing!').
According to Caitlin Rabel, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist with Bites for Health, Cramer's labelling proposal certainly has some merit.
"I think the intentions behind this strategy are good, as some people have no idea how energy-dense some foods — especially fast foods — are," she explains.
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This is an important consideration, especially as many of the foods we typically view as 'healthy' (smoothies and fro-yo, anyone?) have been shown to be loaded with kilojoules. Knowledge is power.
Activity equivalents could also make food labels less baffling than they currently are, at least where energy intake is concerned. As Shirley Cramer notes in the BMJ, public polling in the UK has found 44 per cent of people find current front-of-packet information confusing.
However, Rabel also believes this approach could be misleading.
For one thing, the human body naturally uses much of the energy from food and drinks through its various processes, which include breathing, digestion and circulation. In other words, living.
"The amount of calories each person burns just by being alive is called their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which covers all of the processes [that] keep the body functioning properly," Rabel explains.