Calls to introduce 'activity calories' labelling

Calls to introduce 'activity calories' labelling

Do you know how long it takes to burn off the calories in a can of Coke or a Big Mac?

If you did, public health experts say you might change your ways.

Working out calorie content and nutritional information can be complicated and time consuming, but what if energy content was linked to physical activity?

British public health expert Shirley Cramer is calling for the introduction of "activity equivalent" calorie labelling.

"Symbols would show the minutes of several different physical activities that would be equivalent in calories expended to the calories in the product," explains Dr Cramer.

Calls to introduce 'activity calories' labelling

"The objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, and to encourage them to be more physically active."

Public polling by the UK's Royal Society of Public Health shows more than half (53 percent) said it would make them change their behaviour, including choosing healthier products, eating smaller portions or doing more physical exercise.

With two-thirds of Kiwis overweight, University of Auckland Professor of Population Nutrition, Boyd Swinburn, says it's a good idea.

"I think there is not a lot understood about the level of physical activity needed to burn off calories, so some way of getting that information across would be great."

Many Kiwis we spoke to actually over-estimated how long it would take to exercise off the calories.

"An hour or two?" guessed one passerby.

"Thirty minutes of going crazy, like crazy crazy," said another. 

Others ranged from 10 minutes to five hours.

But there's little appetite for 'activity calories' labelling from the food industry.

"The Health Star Rating helps people make healthier choices because it looks at the whole food  how much carbohydrate, protein, fibre, fat, salt etc is in it, whereas this idea looks just at the energy content," says Katherine Rich, Chief Executive, NZ Food & Grocery Council. 

"It runs into problems because we all don't all have the same levels of fitness or ability."

Professor Swinburn agrees.

"The best thing would be both, but on the front of pack I think we've got to go with the Health Star Rating system, not a symbol of number of minutes."

But the Health Star Rating system is voluntary, and after 18 months only about 1000 products use it.

Prof Swinburn says for any system to tackle obesity it needs to be on all packaged foods.