New research is showing that if food and drinks are labelled with how much walking or running is needed to burn them off, it could help with the obesity crisis.

Currently all packaged food must show certain nutritional info, such as calories, but that labeling has little evidence proving that approach changes what people will eat and drink.  The new studies support another approach to labelling: use small symbols indicating how much physical activity is necessary to compensate for eating or drinking the item.

Simple Approach Works Best

An example would be a can of a popular kind of carbonated soda pop.  If the drink contains 138 calories, a symbol of someone in a walking or running pose could be on the can or bottle showing it would take about a half hour of walking or 15 minutes of running to burn off the calories.  The thought process on this research is that this approach brings calories to the front and help people to avoid overeating.  Also, it may encourage people to exercise more to burn the calories and possibly most important, it may push food producers to make products with less calories.

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Professor Amanda Daley of Loughborough University, the first author of the research says, “We are not saying get rid of current labelling, we’d say add this to it.  We think there is a clear signal that it might be useful.”  Daley also stated that a simple approach is important because we only spend about 6 seconds reading labels.

Daley and her team said the simplicity is the key to the new type of label.  “In that [time] we’ve got to have something that can be easily understood and make sense without having a PhD in mathematics to work out what [eating] a quarter of a pizza actually means.”  She made this statement, accompanying the notion that if she were telling someone it will take 60 minutes of walking to burn the food they were going to consume, that they understand walking 60 minutes is a long way.

Knowing the Work Needed to Burn Calories Limits Calorie Intake

In further evaluation of 14 previous studies, Daley and her team discovered that people that used the labels containing the symbols, they consumed 65 calories less per meal.  Dive deeper and they found that if no labelling was used in conjunction with the exercise-based labels, people selected 103 fewer calories.

While the gains may sound small, Daley said such reductions add up across meals.

“People think that obesity is caused by gluttony. It isn’t.  Obesity is caused by all of us eating just a little bit too much,” she said.