PACE labelling on a soft drink can with woman running up stairs

Could food labels linking calories to exercise get people moving?

Food labels indicating the amount of exercise needed to burn the calories in the product are touted as a way to reduce obesity, but not everyone is convinced.

Researchers from Loughborough University in the UK believe that labeling certain foods with their physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE), which tells people how much walking or running is needed to ‘eliminate’ the food , can reduce obesity.

Amanda Daly, professor of behavioral medicine at Loughborough University, told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth that PACE labeling might be easier for people to understand than a nutrition panel.

“PACE labeling is really about trying to translate energy into food,” said Professor Daley.

“Just give people a number [of calories or kilojoules] without context doesn’t really help them make a decision.

“[If] I just said to you, for example, “You know, a bag of crisps has 150 calories”, what does that really mean for you, as a consumer? It’s just three numbers, right?

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How many minutes in a chocolate bar?

Professor Daley recently presented the PACE idea at the International Obesity Congress in Melbourne in October.

While the Loughborough University team is still testing PACE labeling in cafeterias and vending machines, they say early results are promising.

“Our early results showed that when you put PACE labeling in the context of where people have to make food decisions, it reduces the number of calories the public selects for consumption, which is exactly what we’re trying to do. to do,” she said.

“Most people are overweight, most of us eat a little too much food and don’t do enough physical activity.

“We also found that the public said that if PACE labeling was introduced it would help them think about what they eat, but also reduce their purchases of calorie-dense foods.”

A PACE (caloric equivalent of physical activity) label on a package of muffins
A PACE (caloric equivalent of physical activity) label on a muffin wrapper.(Provided: Loughborough University, Amanda Daley)

The majority of the Australian adult population is overweight

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Health Survey, conducted in 2018, found that 67% of adults in Australia and 25% of children were overweight or obese.

Some ABC Radio Perth listeners said they thought the PACE labels would be useful.

Hendo: “I am a MASSIVE chocolate addict. I think the new labels are a good idea to keep me informed of the amount of additional physical activity required for the chocolate bars I eat daily.”

Hailey“Rhythm labeling is a great idea. Informed consent before jumping on a chocolate bar. May even inspire people to exercise.”

Kim: “I like the idea. It would make me want to walk to the store if I really wanted a chocolate bar instead of driving to get it.”

Others had reservations:

Ciara“I don’t like that idea. As a recovered bulimic and anorexic, we don’t need labels that make people obsessed with numbers and calories in this food obsessed culture. We need to focus on eating mostly fresh food, nothing wrong with chocolate bars. Ingredient list is sufficient and good.”

alexander: “You can have 300 calories from a donut or 300 calories from a piece of fish. They have the same caloric value, but one will satisfy the other, they are just empty calories. L origin of the calories is more important.”

Food “more than calories”

Sheri Cooper, assistant lecturer in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University in Perth, said that while PACE labeling could provide useful information to people, healthy living would not happen. was not limited to calorie counting.

“We know food is much more complex than that. It’s full of nutrients and that’s important whether those calories come from nutrient-dense sources or whether they’re discretionary calories,” Dr Cooper said. .

“From a weight management perspective, you need to live a healthy lifestyle, which really requires you to eat a well-balanced diet of all five food groups, as well as not eating too many rich foods. into our saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. And that system doesn’t really make a difference to consumers.”

Cereals, mango smoothie, canned pears, lasagna, beef and vegetable stir-fry.
Sheri Cooper recommends people eat a balanced diet, which includes treats.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Nicole Mills)

While calories and their exercise equivalents can be very useful information for individuals to receive as part of personalized advice from a dietitian, it is less convinced of its value as a population-level strategy.

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