Exercise labelling on foods ‘could help reduce obesity’

Physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) food labelling shows how many minutes or miles of physical activity are needed to burn off the calories consumed. For example, the 230 calories in a small bar of chocolate would require about 46 minutes of walking or 23 minutes of running to burn off.

A Loughborough University research team examined research databases and other resources for studies that compared PACE labelling with other types of food labelling or none for potential impact on the selection, purchase, or consumption of food and drink products (excluding alcohol). They pooled the data from 14 randomised controlled studies and found that PACE labelling was associated with the consumption of 80 to 100 fewer calories when compared with other types of food labelling. Based on the findings, and average consumption of three meals a day plus two snacks, they suggest that PACE labelling might slice an average of 200 calories off daily intake.

The study’s lead, Professor Amanda Daley, said, “The evidence shows that even a relatively small reduction in daily calorie intake (100 calories) combined with a sustained increase in physical activity is likely to be good for health and could help curb obesity at the population level. PACE labelling may help people achieve this. It is a simple strategy that could be easily included on food/drinks packaging by manufacturers, on shelving price labels in supermarkets, and/or in menus in restaurants/fast-food outlets. Public health agencies may want to consider the possibility of including policies to promote it as a strategy that contributes to the prevention and treatment of obesity and related diseases.”

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) welcomed the findings and called for further research in real-life settings. It also said that the implementation of such measures should be sensitive to any potential negative impact on vulnerable individuals, including those suffering from or at risk of eating disorders.

Duncan Stephenson, RSPH’s deputy chief executive, said, “Our own research showed that using this type of labelling did make people think twice about the calories they were consuming. [It] really does put an individual’s calorie consumption in the context of energy expenditure, and knowing how out of kilter we sometimes are, this partly explains the record levels of obesity we face. 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. 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.”

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