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Food should show activity needed to burn off calories

Posted on 08 April 2016

People like to have information about their food - but working out how much exercise you'll need to do to burn off the calories in your favourite treat is not straightforward.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, says a simple icon on food packaging could be the answer.

She explains that with more than two-thirds of the UK population either overweight or obese, “we desperately need innovative initiatives to change behaviour at population level.” Yet little evidence indicates that the current information on food and drink packaging, including traffic light labelling, actually changes behaviour.

Take, for example, your favourite chocolate bar. You may take note of how many calories it has, but does that information really mean anything to you? Given the average consumer spends six seconds looking at food before making a purchase, it seems unlikely.

A clearer way of making people more mindful of the calories they are consuming is for a food or drink product to visually display just how much activity you would need to do to burn off the calories it contains.

Take, for example, a morning mocha coffee and muffin. Whilst it may not seem like you are eating a lot, in actual fact you'd have to walk for more than an hour and a half to burn off those calories.

This information is not meant to scare people, or to create a society obsessed with calorie counting. It is simply hoped that by showing just how long you'd need to walk or run for to burn off the calories, that people wouldn't be so blasé about the calories they are consuming.

We are facing an obesity epidemic - two in three of us are either overweight or obese. And one of the main reasons for this is we are consuming far more calories than we are actually expending. We recognise that just to live and breathe we need to consume a certain number of calories every day - for a man that's about 2,500 and for a woman 2,000. But anything more than this, without a more active lifestyle, could lead us to gain weight.

And almost half of us aren't getting enough physical activity. Perhaps that bar of chocolate showing how long we need to walk for might encourage us to reach for a healtier option, or get off the bus or tube a stop earlier and walk.

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