What if instead of counting calories, you could see how many minutes of running or walking it would take to work off your favorite junk food? Would you think twice about scarfing down a burger? That’s the idea presented by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which suggests “activity equivalent labeling” might be a powerful tool to fight obesity.
According to a recent report, the RSPH claims two thirds of adults are obese in the United Kingdom – largely as a result of consuming too many calories. Even so, many only spend a few seconds glancing at conventional nutrition labels. In order to encourage better eating behavior, the RSPH presented activity labeling as an alternative to calorie counts that may be easier to understand at a glance.
Related: Can freeze-dried fecal pills help people fight obesity?
For example, a chicken and bacon sandwich requires one hour and 22 minutes to walk off or 42 minutes to run off. Walking for 53 minutes or running for 28 is required to burn off a medium-sized mocha.
RSPH Chief Executive Shirley Cramer told the BBC, “This is not meant to scare people, or to create a society of obsessives. But instead it is meant to show the public very clearly just how active we need to be if we are to consume the diets we do and not put on weight…these little icons could gently prompt people to be a bit more active in their everyday lives.”
According to Cramer, nearly half of people aren’t active enough during the day. RSPH’s hope is that the clarity of a running or walking label would motivate people to get moving.
Some nutritionists have raised doubts about the efficacy of such labeling. Sara Haas, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietics, said it was a “nice idea in theory” but could skew some people’s perceptions of food. For example, if selected portions of jelly beans, fruit salad, and cereal all took the same amount of time to run off, people might feel justified in choosing jelly beans and overlook the superior nutritional value of fruit.
Others pointed out that the labels could only show an average, since people burn calories at different rates depending on their weight and age.
Cramer acknowledges that one can’t outrun a bad diet, but pointed out that one of the benefits of the idea was that no legislation would be necessary for companies to adopt activity labeling, just a willingness to do right by consumers.
Images via Royal Society for Public Health and Anthony Albright on Flickr