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Charity says food labels should show how long it takes to burn calories

Most of us have a fairly good idea what foods are high in calories, and it’s easy enough to check labels on food packaging to find that out, but how many of us know exactly how long it takes to burn off those calories?


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The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) wants to put “activity equivalent” tags on food labels to show how long you’d have to exercise to burn off unhealthy junk food.

On a sample chocolate bar the organisation added small icons of a stick figure running, cycling and swimming with the number of minutes each activity would take to burn off the calories in the product.

Activity equivalent calorie labelling
Image: Royal Society for Public Health

Based on statistics provided by the British Heart Foundation, whoever scoffed the chocolate bar would have to run for 40 minutes, cycle for 49 minutes or swim for 29 minutes to cancel out the calories.

A packet of crisps containing 171 calories would require a 19-minute run, a 23-minute cycle or a 13-minute swim.

According to RSPH research involving over 2,000 adults, consumers were three times more likely to do more exercise after reading these new labels. They also found that 63 percent of people approve of the proposed new labelling, while 53 percent say it would make them buy healthier food, eat smaller portions or up their exercise levels.

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“Activity equivalent calorie labelling 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,” said Shirley Cramer, RSPH chief executive.

However Dr. Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist adviser to the National Obesity Forum, warned that the labelling doesn’t take into account how different calories have different metabolic rates in the body.

“What you don’t want is to give people the impression you can out-exercise a bad diet,” he told The Guardian.

Men should consume around 2,500 calories and women 2,000 calories on average each day to maintain a healthy weight, says RSPH. Currently two-thirds of adults in the U.K. are overweight or obese.

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation told BBC News that activity equivalent information was “an interesting concept” and worth exploring.

“As an industry, we are looking at what more we can do to help people use the existing nutrition information provided to understand how different foods and drinks fit within a healthy lifestyle,” the spokesperson said. “We support RSPH’s call for further research into whether activity equivalent calorie labelling could be an effective way of encouraging consumers to use labels.”

Would activity equivalent calorie labelling encourage you to make different food choices? Let us know your thoughts.

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