Can Food Labelling Influence Obesity?

The BBC have been demonstrating the use of new food labelling on eating behaviour. They printed some snack food packaging with pictures demonstrating how much exercise would need to be done to burn off the amount of calories in the product. An example was a 171 calories packet of crisps which showed that you would need a 19 minutes run, 23 minute cycle ride or 13 minute swim to burn off. But would this work?

Food choices are sometimes made carefully and sometimes not. This could differ between people and may also change within individual behaviour depending on mood and environment. We are all likely to read packaging if we want to be careful about what we are eating, but if we are just in the mood for chocolate or are comfort eating, then it is unlikely we read labelling anyway.

Most people who are conscious about what they eat will tend to look at the calories anyway. Most people understand roughly how many calories they need, if they have concerns about their weight. It is therefore unlikely to make a significant difference to most people. There may be some who find calories confusing and do not understand them and so having it broken down to minutes of exercise may help them to compare. However, even those with a small understanding would still realise that lower calorie foods are less likely to cause weight gain than higher calorie ones. The only way this can be confusing is when food labels are set out with calories per portion rather than per packet, but this could still be the same when the exercise labelling is used.

The danger with this type of labelling also is that it implies that it is acceptable to eat junk food as long as you exercise it off. This is misleading as it is far healthier for the body to avoid eating the confectionary, salty snacks, biscuits and cakes and eat healthier fruit, vegetables, nuts or seeds instead when snacking.


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