Public health experts recommend adding "exercise labels" to food packaging

An expert in public health has recommended changing the current 'traffic light' food labels in order to let the public know how much exercise is required to burn off food and drink.

Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, suggested changing food packaging may help alter the public's behaviour, allowing them to make healthier choices.

The current system shows fat content, saturated fat content, sugar, salt and carbohydrates, with green lights for good and red lights for bad.

However, there is still a degree of confusion around labelling, which was demonstrated by a study in 2015 which suggested that more than 40% of UK adults found them unclear.

Cramer's idea is to use a group of symbols that can be recognised easily, such as brisk walking, running, cycling and swimming. These would be combined with a number so the public become aware of how long they'd need to do the relevant exercise. One such example is a can of Coca Cola®, which contains 139 calories, and would take around 35 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.

The idea is an interesting one, although any legislation would take several years to get off the ground because food labelling is currently decided at European level. However, there is a possibility that some manufacturers may decide to take up the idea voluntarily, and, if it is popular with the public, it may help it spread without legislation being required.

Reference

Cramer S. Food should be labelled with the exercise needed to expend its calories. BMJ. Published online April 6 2016

Headlines

Almost an hour for a Snickers, but only 20 minutes for an apple: Labels should tell you how much exercise will burn off your food to help tackle obesity crisis, says expert. Daily Mail, April 7 2016

Activity icons 'could help healthy living'. BBC News, April 7 2016

Run 'n junk: Unhealthy snacks need exercise labels to tackle obesity. The Sun, April 7 2016

How much exercise will you need to burn off your lunch? ITV News, April 6 201