The UK Moves Toward Brilliant New Calorie Labeling Plan

April 8th 2016

Almie Rose

What would it take to make you change your eating habits? An average person could pick up a can of cola and see that it has 138 calories and still drink 3 of them per day. But what if, in addition to seeing 138 calories on the label, you also saw that it would take approximately forty-three minutes of walking to burn off those calories? Would that change your mind?

That's the idea behind "activity equivalent calorie labeling", a new system suggested by The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) of the United Kingdom, where a reported two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese.

America is not the only place that has an obesity epidemic.

In England alone, 61.7 percent of all adults were considered overweight or obese, according to a 2014 survey by Public Health England. They predict that by 2050, 60 percent of all men, 50 percent of all women, and 25 percent of all children will be obese.

That's why the RSPH is pushing for activity equivalent calorie labeling.

Here's how it would work.

Along with the standard nutritional and caloric info, food would also be labeled with symbols that would show how many minutes of a certain physical activity it would take to burn off the item consumed. The desired effect is to make people "more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives," says the British Medical journal The BMJ. The new labeling would also help to promote physical fitness.

Knowing that one simply cannot cancel out a poor diet with exercise, the belief is that this new labeling "encourages people to start something, rather than calling for them to stop," according to the BMJ report.

Here's why the U.S. should steal this idea.

In the United States, 68.8 percent of all adults were also labeled as overweight or obese, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of the U.S. Department of Health and Services in 2010. That means roughly two in three adults are overweight or obese. For children and adolescents (ages 6 to nineteen), it's about one-third.

childhood obesity ad next to McDonalds ad

In 1960, the average American male weighed approximately 166.3 pounds. In 2010, the average American woman weighed 166.2 pounds, according to the CDC via Newsmax. The average man's weight has increased from 166.3 to 195.5 pounds.

Weight is up because Americans are not only eating more (and eating more unhealthy foods), but they're also exercising far less than they used to. More than 80% of adults do not exercise enough, according to President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

Is ignorance to blame?

It's possible that people simply don't realize how detrimental their diet, combined with lack of physical activity, really is. More than half of Americans are "clueless" when it comes to knowing how many calories they should eat compared to how many calories they should burn to maintain a healthy weight, according to a USA Today report cited by the Calorie Control Council.

Let's take a look at some examples. Using the weights of the average American man and woman and inputting those into Health Assist, you can get a rough idea of what you'd have to do to burn calories.

Health Assist breaks down how much and what type of exercise or physical activity you'd need to do to burn off the calories consumed in certain foods.

You might be surprised by what you'd have to do to burn off...

The 138 calories in a can of cola:

As previously mentioned, a typical can of cola is 138 calories. An average American woman would have to walk for forty-three minutes and forty-five seconds at a slow place in order to burn that off. Or she could shovel snow for eighteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds. Or swim for twenty-seven minutes and forty-three seconds, using "moderate effort." And that's for just one can of soda.

A cheeseburger (303 calories, approx.)

An average American man would have to ride a stationary bike for forty-minutes and fifty-three seconds. Or go bowling for one hour, seven minutes, and thirty-four seconds. Or walk up some stairs for twenty-five minutes and twenty-eight seconds. (An average American woman would have to do that same activity for the same cheeseburger for almost half an hour.)

A slice of pepperoni pizza (285 calories, approx.)

Let's say you work all day and don't have time to exercise, aside from doing some light housework when you get home. How would you burn off that pizza? An average American man would have to type at his computer non-stop for over an hour and a half, then vacuum for forty-one minutes and forty-five seconds. A woman would have to do those same activities for almost two hours and then forty-nine minutes, respectively.

Ultimately, the goal of these labels is not to shame you into dieting, but to give you all the information you need in order to make more informed decisions about your health.