Some experts think putting the amount of exercise required to burn off calories on food labels would go a long way in helping to drive down obesity rates.
The UK’s Royal Society of Public Health is suggesting that food packaging could feature labels that show how many minutes of walking, running, cycling or swimming are required to use up the calories they contain. You can see some examples of how it might look in the images above. They call it “activity equivalent” calorie labelling.
“This is not meant to scare people, or to create a society of obsessives,” writes Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, for the BBC. “But instead it is meant to show to the public very clearly just how active we need to be if we are to consume the diets we do and not put on weight. Or how we might need to readjust our diets to match our inactive lives.”
The society’s poll found that 53% said they would positively change their behavior if this type of labeling appeared on food packaging. They would:
- Choose healthier products.
- Eat smaller portions.
- Do more exercise.
All of these choices could help against obesity.
According to the Canadian obesity Network, one in four adult Canadians and one in 10 children have clinical obesity, meaning six million Canadians living with obesity may require immediate support in managing and controlling their weight.
As a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer, the condition impacts those who have obesity, their families, employers, neighbours, health practitioners and governments.
Last year Health Minister Rona Ambrose proposed changes to food packaging labels to offer consumers more information on the sugar content of their packaged foods, as well as standardize portion sizes.
The new labels would see a “per cent daily value” (% DV) added for sugars to make it easier to see how much sugar a food has.
A footnote at the bottom of the table would state that less than five per cent DV of sugar would be a low amount, while 15 per cent or more would indicate a food with high sugar.
All of a product’s sugars would be grouped together on the ingredient list under the proposed changes, as well. That would help consumers identify unfamiliar sources of sugars, such as “fancy molasses” or “malted barley.” And, since ingredients are listed in order of weight, a high-sugar food would see “sugars” high on its ingredient list, rather than each form of sugar spread out over the list.
But some nutrition experts are disappointed the new labels would not distinguish between naturally occurring sugars, such as those in milk, and added sugar, such as from glucose syrup.
Health Canada, on the other hand, says drawing this distinction isn’t relevant to informing Canadians about the effect sugar is having on their health.
“The body uses naturally occurring sugars and added sugars in the same way, and lab methods cannot distinguish between them either,” the government agency said. “This poses challenges in determining how much added sugar is actually in a product in order to verify that labels are accurate.”
The effects of sugar on nutrition, the statement added, continue to be one of Health Canada’s research priorities. Ambrose says Canada will be “breaking new ground” with the new sugar labelling rules.
“Nowhere else in the world will consumers have the kind of information Canadians will have about the sugars contained in the foods they eat,” she said in a statement.
Other planned changes would make the ingredient list easier to read, by including bullet points to separate each ingredient, and listing a food colour by its common name, such as “Allura red,” instead of simply “Colour.”
The labelling changes would also aim to make serving sizes better reflect the amount that Canadians typically eat.
Serving sizes would also be consistent to make it easier for Canadians to compare similar foods and to better understand how many calories they are eating.
Mary Lewis, the vice-president of research and knowledge exchange with the Heart and Stroke Foundation says her group believes the proposed label changes are “steps in the right direction” towards helping Canadians make healthy food choices.
“The Heart and Stroke Foundation is pleased to see these proposed revisions to nutrition labelling, in particular, mandatory standardized serving sizes for similar products and more complete information about sugars in the ingredients list,” she said in a statement.
Health Canada says it received feedback from over 10,000 Canadians on the labelling changes last year.