Food labels should give details of the amount of activity needed to burn off their calories, according to the head of a public health body.
Shirley Cramer (pictured), the head of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), said innovative measures were needed to help tackle the obesity time bomb in the UK.
Two thirds of the population are classed as overweigh or obese and Cramer said “activity equivalent” calorie labelling could encourage people to be more physically active.
The labels would show how many minutes people would need to spend doing different activities to burn off the calories they have eaten.
Nearly half of people polled by the RSPH said that they found current food information on the front of packs hard to understand.
Cramer said they find symbols easier to understand and activity equivalent calorie labels were easy to understand, “particularly for lower socioeconomic groups who often lack nutritional knowledge and health literacy.”
She added: ‘Given its simplicity, activity equivalent calories labelling offers a recognisable reference, accessible to everyone.”
Just over half of people told the RSPH they would make positive changes if they looked at activity equivalent calorie labeling. They might choose healthier products, pick smaller portions or do more physical exercise.
However Cramer said obesity will not be reduced by focusing on diet or exercise alone.
“People can’t outrun a bad diet, and messages about the importance of healthy and varied eating must also continue,” she advised in her comment piece in the British Medical Journal.
There were some concerns about possible negative impacts on people with eating disorders.
However Cramer said: “We have a responsibility to promote measures to tackle the biggest public health challenges facing our society, such as obesity.”
People are used to messages telling them to avoid particular drinks or cut down on certain food.
“By contrast activity labelling encourages people to start something, rather than calling for them to stop,” said Cramer.
Food packaging is governed by European Union legislation and “any fundamental changes to packaging harbours little appetite among European Union officials and food manufacturers.”
Cramer called for detailed research to see if activity based labelling was effective and for law makers and the food industry to use it if it is does make a difference in consumers’ choices.
Her comment piece can be found here