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Are Exercise Labels a Good Idea?

April 28, 2016

Before you ate a slice of pizza, if you knew how many minutes you would have to walk or run to burn it off, would it make you think twice before eating it?  Would you not eat it at all? British researchers and medical professionals think that information is important for you to know.

British citizens suffer from obesity just as Americans do.  Obesity isn't limited to the borders of the United States.  To combat obesity, the Brits are considering the addition of that activity information to food labels such as pizza, soda pop, and chocolate.

The goal is to make it more personal, more in your face - "If you eat this piece of pizza, you'll have to walk one hour and 23 minutes or run for 42 minutes to burn it off."

The Proponents Weigh In On Exercise Labels

exercise labels tableBritish researchers believe that the numbers for calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, sodium and cholesterol aren't enough to sway people from eating certain foods that are low or empty on nutrition. It is easier to dismiss the numbers on food labels than it is to think of the actual time a person would have to walk or run to burn off that food.

Shirley Cramer, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health in London, says that it takes about six seconds to make up their mind about a product. With this short amount of time, seeing the activity equivalent in an easier way is important.  With the numbers on the current food labels, it is thought that it takes too long to read them, interpret and make a decision.

By viewing the exercise label, and those six quick seconds we take to make a food decision, it would work to the advantage of our health. It would allow us to make an informed choice in a practical way of our activity.

Many British researchers, medical professionals and citizens believe it will help to make a difference in obesity. It is the belief that this information could make a person ask themselves if that slice of pizza or that mayonnaise instead of mustard is really worth it. Their hope is that before taking that first bite, we would check with ourselves to see if eating that pizza is worth walking for almost 90 minutes.

The information could also trickle down to the small food choices we make.  Small choices can add up - mustard instead of mayo, eating a sandwich without cheese, drinking water instead of regular soda pop to assist weight loss or, at least, not gain weight from those small choices.

The Doubters Weigh In On Exercise Labels

The doubters of this change of activity-based labeling believe it is over-reaching, will encourage overeating, pointing out that exercise will increase appetite, and the focus should be on eating healthy foods that are satiating and not activity equivalents.

Just as in the United States, these revisions by the British would have to be approved by their FDA equivalent (U.K.'s Royal Society for Public Health "RSPH") which could take years. When the RSPH conducted a survey on the issue of exercise labels, 53% indicated they would act differently if they saw the exercise labels, either by eating less, eating another food choice, or would become more active.

While exercise is important to overall health, for losing weight it is not as important as making healthy food choices and having good eating habits. It only puts a band-aid on the bigger problem of people eating a healthy diet.  A concern is giving the public the message that you can exercise off a bad diet which isn't true. We can't merely offset eating a diet of junk food or fast food just by exercising.

"Calories consumed outweigh the calories exercised. For the most part, you cannot outrun your fork." ~ Yoni Freedhoff, Bariatric Medical Institute

A problem with the message of activity labels is that they wouldn't reflect the fact that each of us burn calories at different rates.  Due to a number of variables such as our age, gender, physical condition, weight and resting metabolic rate (RMR), the statistics on the labels would not be accurate for most people.  The calories that a male and female, each weighing 200 pounds, would burn differently. If those same people were of different ages, that number would vary even more.

What Do You Think?

In the United States, the FDA is already in the process of updating food labels to include important information such as the grams of sugar. While including the amount of sugar in a food choice is an improvement to food labels, is it enough?  At some point in the future, will the United States consider the same type of labeling to combat our obesity epidemic?

Would allowing the connection between a food item to the activity equivalent help the obesity epidemic in America?  Would it help our children to see the activity equivalents so childhood obesity decreased?  Is it a matter of using food labels as the food police?  Are the exercise labels a form of shaming or educating the public?  Share in the Comments below - What do you think?