UK public health expert calling for 'activity labelling' on pre-packaged foods to tackle obesity

Shirley Cramer says the current nutritional information doesn't make clear how much exercise needs to be done to balance calories consumed

Shirley Cramer, Activity Labelling, BMJ, Food, Obesity

An example of how the packaging information might look [BBC]

An expert in the field of public health is asking for food labels to have activity icons printed on the packaging that would tell those eating the foodstuff how much exercise is needed to burn off the calories consumed. With the rate of obesity in Ireland amongst the highest in Europe, Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the UK’s Royal society of Public Health, believes the new approach to labelling calories could encourage consumers to change their behaviour.

According to a study in The BMJ, Cramer says that the average consumer spends only six seconds looking at nutritional information before buying something, and therefore believes that we need to reconfigure how this information is perceived within that short window.

As an example, Cramer used the example of a can filled with a fizzy drink; according to statistics, the average person in the UK would need to spend 26 minutes walking in order to counteract the amount of calories in the liquid. As such, that can would be labelled with a pictograph of a person walking with the figure 26 published beside it, or one of someone running with the number 13.

According to her research, Cramer says that in her sampled group, more than half of the respondents said they would react favourably to such a labelling change, and that “initial studies show this approach can change behaviour by reducing intake or modifying choice.”

But Cramer also said that the obesity problem cannot be solved solely by people being more mindful of the calories they consume, but that exercise is also pivotal to a balanced lifestyle. She refers to how the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has “described regular physical activity as a ‘miracle cure’ because it boosts self-esteem, mood, sleep quality, and energy levels and reduces the risk of stress, depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

As European legislation currently governs what information must be published on most pre-packaged foods, Shirley Cramer and the Royal Society of Public Health said their work hopes to “explore the potential effect on activity labelling on consumer choices, including the potential harms.”

[H/T:BBC]

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