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Health experts call for 'exercise equivalent' to feature on snack labels

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Health experts are calling for labelling on food and drink to show how much activity would be required to burn off the calories contained in that product.

A new paper from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) – published today (15 January) – puts forward the policy call as part of recommended measures to tackle the UK’s growing obesity crisis. The prominence of physical activity is a significant development in the obesity debate, which has regularly seen exercise as a solution crowded out by calls for sugar taxes and junk food reform.

Amid findings that many people find current front-of-pack nutritional information confusing, RSPH proposes that food and drink labels take the form of prominent pictorial icons alongside existing front-of-pack information. RSPH says this could help moderate excessive calorie consumption, while the ‘activity equivalent’ aspect would help promote and normalise physical activity – bringing a wide range of physical and mental health benefits to the public beyond simple weight management.

According to RSPH research, people said they were three times more likely to undertake physical activity after viewing ‘activity equivalent’ calorie labels than after viewing current ‘traffic light’ nutritional labels alone.

“Although nutritional information provided on food and drink packaging has improved it is evident that it isn’t working as well as it could to support the public in making healthy choices,” said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer.

“Activity equivalent calorie labelling provides a simple means of making the calories contained within food and drink more relatable to people’s everyday lives, while also gently reminding consumers of the need to maintain active lifestyles and a healthy weight.”

RSPH research found that two-thirds (63%) of the public would support introduction of the new labelling, which ukactive executive director Steven Ward described as a “positive message”.

“We see a lot of health messaging telling us off, to eat and drink less, which although correct, doesn’t work for everyone,” said Ward.

“Encouraging people to be more active is a positive message, more about supporting people to start rather than imploring them to stop. Physical activity has been described by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges as a ‘miracle cure’ so we should treat it as just that.”

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Health experts are calling for labelling on food and drink to show how much activity would be required to burn off the calories contained in that product.
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