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Food & Drink

Should calorie labels include the amount of exercise required to burn off food?

A packet might read: “calories in this cake requires 90 minutes of walking to burn off.”

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Man reading the label on food packaging in a supermarket
(Juice Flair via Shutterstock)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Calorie labels should include the amount of physical exercise required to burn the food off, according to a new study.

They believe it will be simpler to understand than the current traffic light system, making it more likely to support consumers avoiding high calorie foods by illustrating what calorie counts mean in real life.

With physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) users will be able to know how many minutes of exercise they would have to do to burn off everything they consume - a packet might read: “calories in this cake requires 90 minutes of walking to burn off.”

However, the general public aren't sold on the idea.

Despite the majority thinking it would help them avoid high calorie food versus the traffic lights, they overwhelmingly wanted to stick to the traffic lights.

PACE is currently popular in apps but researchers are pushing for it to feature more widely.

The British study led by author Professor Amanda Daley of Loughborough University said: “Nutritional labels support people to make food choices and traffic light labeling is the UK standard.

“However, many people do not understand the meaning of kilocalories (kcals or calories) or grams of fat displayed on food labels, and often underestimate the number of calories when labelling is not provided.”

However, until now the public’s view of PACE packaging was lacking.

Professor Daley's team spoke to 2,668 people from an Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel to compare their views about traffic light versus PACA labeling.

Participants had to state which they preferred, found easier to understand, and were the most eye-catching.

In the end most preferred the traffic light system with 43 percent of participants siding with it and 33 percent favoring PACE labeling.

Most acknowledged PACE was easier to understand: 41 percent versus 27 percent.

Likewise 49 percent voted PACE was more likely to catch their attention compared to 31 percent for the traffic lights.

Physically active participants found PACE more eye-catching - those who exercised over three times a week found it grabbed their attention more than people who were active a couple times a week.

The older generation wanted to stick to the original calorie presentation, over-65s were 40 percent less likely to choose PACE than young people.

The group suggested PACE should be placed on food like chocolates versus everyday food items like bread, pasta, fruit and vegetables.

Putting PACE on labels in fast food chains, supermarkets, takeaway menus, and vending machines was also preferred because of their typically high calorie options on offer.

The authors concluded: “Our findings highlight that PACE labelling is a potentially important policy-based approach to strengthen current approaches to food labeling.

"The next steps are to test whether PACE labeling reduces the purchases of high calorie foods and drinks in different food settings such as restaurants, vending machines, coffee shops and pubs.”

The team are planning to begin trialing PACE labeling in cafeterias and vending machines, and are to present their research at this year’s International Congress on Obesity in Melbourne, October 18th to 22nd.

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