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Researchers in the U.K. propose physical activity equivalents on food labels

Researchers at the Royal Society for Public Health have proposed new labels for packaged foods that include physical activity equivalents.

Food Labels physical activity
Food Labels physical activity
Photo: Royal Society for Public Health.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), along with the group’s researchers are proposing food and drink labels that display physical activity equivalents to help curb the obesity problem in the United Kingdom. According to the project, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.

The policy paper, entitled “Introducing ‘Activity Equivalent’ Calorie Labelling to Tackle Obesity,” suggests that displaying the amount of time it would take to run, bike, or walk off calories may help moderate intake if included on food labels. The RSPH is a independent charity dedicated to the health of the public in the U.K.

Under the proposal, packaged food items would have a small logo displaying the amount of time, in minutes, that it would take to burn off the food selection.

For an iced cinnamon roll, for example, the paper states that it would take 40 minutes of running at 7:30 per kilometre pace, or 77 minutes of walking, to burn off the roll’s 420 calories. The estimate is based on a 77 kg, 35-year-old male, Cramer told the CBC.

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The estimates do not take into account how individuals can burn calories at a different rate and some experts say that exercise is not the only determinant of weight loss but rather is one aspect in addition to overall healthy eating habits.

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According to the Daily Mail, public polling surveys suggest that half of the U.K.’s population finds the current food label system confusing.

Below is a video from the RSPH in which users of a gym in London are questioned on their knowledge of the calories in certain foods and how long it would take to burn a certain amount of calories.

According to the paper, the ultimate goal of the proposal is to “encourage people to be more mindful of
the calories they consume.”

Last summer, Health Canada proposed combining all sugars into a single category as well as adding the percent daily value of sugar contained in each product to “tell Canadians whether a food has a little or a lot of sugars.”