Experts have called for food labels to be changed to show how much exercise you will need to do in order to burn off the calories.
Researchers at Loughborough University put this idea to the test on 2,668 shoppers by updating the current traffic light system on packaging, which is colour-coded to see at a glance whether a product contains high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. Scientists added a warning on a 200-calorie item notifying consumers that it would require a 30-minute walk to burn off, known as Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent or PACE labelling.
The proposed system could see a warning placed on KitKat wrappers that a 20-minute run will be needed to burn off its calories, or advise someone drinking a can of Pepsi to take a half-hour walk. While those who took part in the study said that they preferred the existing traffic light system overall, they admitted that they found the PACE method more attention-grabbing and easier to understand, The Mirror reports .
Polls taken during the study found that 49% of those involved believed PACE caught their focus more, compared to just 39% for the traffic light system. Similarly, 41% found PACE an easier way to comprehend calories compared to just 27% for the red, amber and green warnings.
Those in favour of introducing the proposed new system said that they would prefer exercise requirements to only be placed on less healthy snacks and junk food, as opposed to staples such as pasta and bread. Researchers believe that bringing in PACE labelling would help to fight obesity by discouraging more people from buying unhealthy foods.
Lead researcher Professor Amanda Daley, an expert in behavioural medicine, said: “Nutritional labels support people to make food choices and traffic light labelling is the UK standard - however, many people do not understand the meaning of kilocalories or grams of fat displayed on food labels." Professor Daley added that this means that shoppers "often underestimate the number of calories when labelling is not provided”.
The next step in the university’s research will be to test whether PACE labelling impacts the decisions people make about their food in different settings such as restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. The system is already used in certain health apps, including MyFoodDiary and myfitnesspal.
Professor Daley added: “PACE food labelling may reduce the number of calories selected from menus and decrease the number of calories consumed by the public. Evidence shows that even a small decrease in calorie intake and increases in physical activity are likely to be beneficial for health.”