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Exercise: a good fit for food labels

Researchers believe that labelling food with details of how much physical activity is required to burn off calories could be more effective than nutrition information.

Academics at the University of Liverpool showed a group of 458 people images of five foods and five drinks. For each there was a low calorie version and a high calorie one. The calorie content was shown on its own or alongside details of the exercise required to burn off the calories.

For example, a Starbucks skinny blueberry muffin with 448 calories would require 140 minutes of walking in order to burn them all off. The “skinny” version though, at 317 calories, would involve a 99-minute walk.

“…unlike previous research which focused on hypothetical menu choices … the current study featured foods and beverages which are readily available in both café environments and supermarkets and are consumed frequently in the UK,” the authors noted in their paper for the journal Appetite. “The provision of physical activity information appeared most effective in influencing the selection of lower Kcal [kilocalorie] snack food and beverage items, when compared with no information or Kcal information.”

The authors said their findings could be used in discussions around the potential legislative policies needed to facilitate healthier nutritional choices at a population level. However, further studies are required, not least because “intentions do not always translate into behaviours”.

The Food & Drink Federation told FoodNavigator that exercise labels represent “an interesting concept”. Their addition would have to comply with EU regulations, but the UK is already considering a post-Brexit revamp of food labelling rules.