Proposed change to nutritional labels would show amount of exercise needed to burn calories in one serving
Even as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently finalized changes to the Nutrition Facts label, a bigger facelift may be in the iconic guidelines' future: the amount of physical activity needed to burn off the calories in a given food or beverage.
A push from across the pond ...
The movement to add exercise equivalents to nutritional labels is gaining traction in the U.K., and health lobbyists and other policymakers have begun to consider implementing the idea in here in the U.S.
The proposal is to add icons depicting different types of physical activity, such as walking, running or swimming, along with the amount of time that it would take to burn off the calories in one serving of a certain food or beverage listed beneath them, Healthline explained. For example, the label on a can of soda would let consumers know it would take about 26 minutes to walk off the 138 calories contained in the drink.
Supporters of the icons believe they would encourage people to make healthier, more informed decisions about what they consume. Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health in London, wrote a widely discussed opinion piece for the British Medical Journal in favor of adding exercise equivalents to nutritional labels.
"More than two thirds of the UK population are either overweight or obese," she noted. "We desperately need innovative schemes to change behaviour at the population level ... Packaging should not only provide nutritional information but should also help people to change behaviour."
In addition, Cramer believes that including icons showing the amount of physical activity it would take to burn off a certain food or beverage would make it easier for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or areas that receive little nutritional education to make healthier decisions, reported Today.com.
... And a push back
Some nutritionists aren't convinced that including exercise icons will have a positive effect on consumer behavior and health - or any effect at all. One criticism levied at the proposal is that the physical activity amounts that would be listed on the labels are calculated for a person "of average height and weight," a category that many consumers don't fall into.
As Ruth Kava, senior nutrition fellow at the American Council on Science and Health, wrote:
"What if you're heavier than some average weight? Would you know that you'd use more calories than someone who is underweight? ... Although Dr. Cramer cites studies suggesting that consumers would use activity information to change their behavior, we all know where that good intention-paved road can lead."
Other critics believe the idea is just a temporary bandage slapped on top of a persistent underlying problem: the widespread production of unhealthy foods. In a response to Cramer's article, Frank Eves, a senior health academic at the University of Birmingham, asserted that knowing the sometimes-intimidating amount of exercise needed to burn off an item would cause consumers to conclude that the exercise is just "not worth the effort." He used the example of having to climb 25 sets of stairs just to work off the calories in a single cookie.
Finally, some food manufacturers are not too keen on the idea, either. Companies that produce unhealthy foods would likely be reluctant to follow the new guidelines, according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietician and wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, in an interview with Healthline.
In May, the FDA finalized several changes to the Nutrition Facts label, including an expanded explanation of the Daily Value, a requirement to include the grams and percent Daily Value of added sugars and the removal of "Calories of Fat."