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Would exercise requirements on food nutrition labels promote healthy eating?

Would exercise requirements on food nutrition labels promote healthy eating?

Two studies show that consumers are more likely to think twice about what they consume when exercise requirements are listed on the packaging.

A new concept for nutrition labels could keep Americans who don’t want to exercise away from unhealthy food.

How? The idea is to include the amount of time it would take to walk off the calories of a given food item on the nutrition label.

If a label states that a person would need to walk three miles to burn off the calories in a 20-ounce soda, research suggests that consumers would refrain from purchasing the product to avoid having to exercise. A Johns Hopkins University study from 2011 found that when soft drinks contained labels stating that it would take 50 minutes of jogging to burn off all of the sugar, teenagers refrained from buying the soda and were more likely to buy water instead.

Hopefully it would do the opposite and encourage you to walk three miles that day, but researchers expect it would make people think twice about what they eat. Either way, studies show that consumers will purchase less and eat less food labeled with information about the amount of exercise needed to burn off those calories, according to NPR.   

“This is a huge window of opportunity for the public health community to provide consumers useful information about calories,” says Sara Bleich of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Scientific American. “Information-based interventions that require less mental processing are typically more successful than information-based interventions requiring greater computation effort.”

A weighty debate

Calculating calorie and exercise ratios is not a new concept and neither is the reinvention of food nutrition labels. In 2011, the food pyramid was changed to a dinner plate, and the Food and Drug Administration has considered and made some changes to food nutrition labels since at least 2007. The FDA has required nutrition labels on packaged food products since 1990.

Recently, many suggestions have been proposed for reinventing the label. Mark Bittman, a food industry advocate and journalist, proposed adopting the traffic light model in which green means it’s a great choice and red means “eat sparingly or never.” Other ideas, such as a simple thumbs up or thumbs down icon, have also been questioned.

In any case, Americans need help to better determine what’s healthy and what’s not when shopping at the store. It’s possible that threatening (ahem, inspiring) consumers with exercise could be the solution.

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