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Could calorie labelling tackle obesity?

At HP Towers this morning, we are pleasantly surprised to see some of the mainstream media outlets run with a story that food packaging should show how much exercise is needed to burn off calories.  The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) called for the introduction of “activity equivalent” calorie labelling in their position paper published back in January.
Firstly, the paper published a number of startling key points on how to tackle obesity:

  • Over two-thirds of adults in the UK are now overweight or obese
  • The most common cause of obesity is consuming more calories than you burn off
  • Food industry introduced nutritional labelling to aid consumers in making more informed choices
  • Consumers spend, on average, 6 seconds looking at food before purchase and understand symbols better than numeric information
  • Evidence suggests activity equivalent calorie labelling has the potential to help moderate calorie intake
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of people would support the introduction of activity equivalent calorie labelling
  • Over half (53%) of people would positively change their behaviour after viewing front-of-pack activity equivalent calorie labelling
  • After viewing activity equivalent calorie labels compared with current traffic light front-of-pack information, people were over 3 times more likely to indicate that they would undertake physical activity

In 1975 the average Briton had a BMI of 23, which is considered a healthy weight. But today that has risen to 27, with the average person now overweight. It means that since the 1970s, every person in Briton has roughly gained more than three pounds (1.5kg) per decade. Yet research suggests that 44 per cent of people find current nutritional information on the front of packs confusing.
Without more effort to curb weight gain, Britain is facing a health timebomb in coming decades which could bankrupt the National Health Service. Ten types of cancer are linked to excess weight which can also lead to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a range of other health problems. Cancer Research UK predicts that obesity related cancer will rise 45 per cent in the next two decades, causing 700,000 new cases of cancer.
Whilst the above RSPH paper gives food for thought on how to tackle obesity, the reality is that it will be sometime before we see activity symbols on our food packaging.  Food manufacturers will have to get onboard with this and it may well take government intervention.  So in the meantime, what should you look out for on an ingredients list?
Ingredients lists can be quite complicated to look at. Keep it simple by understanding that the ingredients are listed in weight order from highest to lowest. Therefore if the first ingredient is sugar then the product is largely sugar based. Another tip is the shorter the ingredients list the better.
For more information on understanding food labels and how you can choose healthier foods visit:
For children

Nutrition labelling - can changes help tackle obesity?
Nutrition labelling – can changes help tackle obesity?

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