Changing packaging to explain how much exercise is needed to burn calories could significantly reduce the amount of food and drink a person chooses to buy and consume, research has found.
The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at 15 randomised controlled studies investigating the effect of physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labelling on how people choose and consume food and drink. This form of labelling explains how much exercise it requires to burn off the product, rather than just indicating the calories. For example, the labels state that one would need to run for 13 minutes after drinking a 330ml can of fizzy drink; 22 minutes after eating a standard size chocolate bar; and 42 minutes after eating a shop-bought chicken and bacon sandwich.
The analysis found that significantly fewer calories were selected when PACE labelling was used in comparison to other forms of calorie labelling.
‘The findings emphasise the potential of easily understood food labels to reduce the calorie intake of the population by facilitating increased selection of lower calorie foods and decreased selection of higher calorie ones,’ said the researchers.
Experts suggested that the change could have a large impact on public health.
‘We would like to see further research to test if the effect on calorie consumption is sustained when PACE labelling is applied in other settings such as restaurants and supermarkets,’ said Duncan Stephenson, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health. ‘Although the difference PACE labelling makes may seem small, these small changes can make a big overall difference to calorie consumption, and ultimately weight gain’.
However, concerns have been raised about this form of labelling and the potential impact it could have on people who have eating disorders.‘Labelling food in this way risks being incredibly triggering for those suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders,’ said eating disorder charity Beat spokesperson Tom Quinn.‘We know that many people with eating disorders struggle with excessive exercising, so being told exactly how much exercise it would take to burn off particular foods risks exacerbating their symptoms’.