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Research recommends food labels should display exercise required to burn off kilojoules

Research recommends food labels should display exercise required to burn off kilojoules
December 12, 2019

A new study from Loughborough University in the UK recommends that food packaging labels should display how much exercise is required to burn off the calories (kilojoules) contained in the product.

The study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, examined data from 14 trials looking at the impact of the alternative labelling method on buying and consuming different food and drinks.

The researchers suggest that this type of labelling would create an awareness of the energy cost of food, helping people to indulge less.

As reported in the BBC, according to the researchers this type of labelling could cut about 200 calories (800 kilojoules) from a person's daily average intake.

For example, people may think twice before consuming a pizza if they knew it required four hours to walk off the calories or needing to go for a 22 minute run to burn off a chocolate bar.

The aim is to encourage healthier eating habits to fight obesity.

The amount of energy in an item of food or drink is measured in either calories or kilojoules where one calorie equates to approximately four kilojoules.

General dietary guidelines usually list men as needing about 10,000 kilojoules a day and women about 8,000 kilojoules to provide enough energy for bodily functions including everything from breathing to running

Eating more kilojoules than you burn off causes obesity because the excess kilojoules are stored as fat.

Australia and New Zealand use The Health Star Rating (HSR) system - a front-of-pack labelling scheme developed to “‘provide convenient, relevant and readily understood nutrition information and/or guidance on food packs to assist consumers to make informed food purchases and healthier eating choices”.

The HSR on the front of food packages provides an at-a-glance overall rating of the healthiness of the food product (reflected as a star rating), as well as specific nutrient and energy information. The more stars, the healthier the choice.

However, the HSR system offers no information on the exercise required to burn off kilojoules.

Lead researcher, Professor Amanda Daley from Loughborough University said many people would be shocked to realise how much physical exercise would be required to burn off calories from certain snacks and treats. However stresses that small reductions help fight obesity.

She advised “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.

“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.”

Professor Daley told the BBC "we are interested in different ways of getting the public to make good decisions about what they eat and also trying to get the public more physically active."

"We know that the public routinely underestimate the number of calories that are in foods.

"So if you buy a chocolate muffin and it contains 500 calories, for example, then that's about 50 minutes of running.

"This definitely isn't about dieting. It's about educating the public that when you consume foods, there is an energy cost, so that they can think, 'Do I really want to spend two hours burning off that chocolate cake? Is the chocolate cake really worth it?'"

Professor Daley hopes a large food chain or company will be willing to try the new labels on their products so the system can be given a "real life" trial.

The BBC also reports that there are concerns over labelling food in this way.

Tom Quinn, from the eating disorder charity Beat added "although we recognise the importance of reducing obesity, labelling food in this way risks being incredibly triggering for those suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders.

"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."

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24th July 2019 - ExerciseNZ calls for action on New Zealand’s obesity epidemic and physical inactivity crisis

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21st April 2019 - Queensland Government to end junk food advertising in bid to address rising obesity

17th February 2019 - Sport Minister McKenzie accepts ridicule in battle to combat obesity

12th December 2018 - Deakin University launch first report that ranks Australian obesity policies on value for money

18th October 2018 - Obesity Summit focuses on five-year plan for early intervention and weight management in Western Australia

11th October 2018 - World Obesity Day looks to end weight stigma

9th March 2018 - Sweet drinks key to childhood obesity gap between rich and poor

3rd March 2018 - VicHealth calls for Australia’s supermarkets to take action on obesity

1st March 2018 - New Report says supermarkets must do more in fight against obesity

26th March 2017 - NZREPs asks if a Sugar Tax is the Best Solution to Obesity?

9th January 2017 - Arnold Schwarzenegger tells Australia to ‘Get Off The Couch’ to combat obesity

23rd November 2016 - Grattan Institute report says sugar tax could halt growing obesity rates

12th November 2016 - Tennis in the front line to combat obesity

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