Will You Think Twice, If Food Labels Had ‘Exercise’ Equivalents?

What would make you put down that chocolate bar? A label that says 229 calories and 42 minutes of “brisk walking”!

3 min read

If you had any idea that one garma garam samosa would take an hour of brisk walk to burn off the calories, would you ever take a bite? Or squeeze a two minutes atta Maggi break and consider yourself health conscious if you knew that it has taste, lead and calories in equal proportion?

The problem is that food labels are so goddamn complicated that we need a PhD in nutrition to cut through the jargon. Imagine if labels came with exercise equivalents, for example, if you were informed that a box of cookies would take 50 minutes of high-intensity running, would it still seduce you?

Can these cues curb the consumption of highly processed, packaged food and force us to eat healthy? Or is the exercise label highly stupid which might open the door to crazy eating disorders where we deny our body the pleasure of guilt-free food once in a while?

What would make you put down that chocolate bar? A label that says 229 calories and 42 minutes of “brisk walking”!
Should such a calorie-burn off calculator come with food labels? 
(Photo: The Quint)

30 Million People Are Battling Obesity in India -Is the Burn-Off Calculator What We Need?

Although the idea of such food labels, which inform people the ‘physical activity equivalent’ has not really picked steam in India, the Royal Society for Public Health, an organisation of medical professionals in the United Kingdom, is advocating these ‘activity equivalent’ labels for Britain.

What would make you put down that chocolate bar? A label that says 229 calories and 42 minutes of “brisk walking”!
(Photo courtesy: Tumblr/ ISNOTCOMIC-SAY-A)

And why should this matter?

Firstly, India is facing an obesity epidemic of sorts.

30 million people are battling obesity, 1 in 5 men or women is either obese or overweight. And one of the main reasons is that we are consuming far more calories than we are actually expending.

Secondly, the World Health Organisation published a report earlier this week, that global diabetes rates have doubled since 1980 and India’s diabetes will cross 100 million in less than 15 years.

Most people don’t know how many calories an average person needs to maintain a healthy way. The idea behind this proposal is that, the in your face physical activity level is more positive an option than telling people what not to eat.

Though the objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the calories they tuck in and how these calories are so hard to burn off but how will it impact people with an eating disorder?

Related Read: Read Before Your Eat, Decoding Food Labels

Problems With This Approach

No kind of food labelling can modify eating behaviour. Also, burning calories depends on a lot of factors, most importantly on the amount of muscle mass in one’s body, so the labelling will not be accurate for most people.

In fact, the only truly accurate way to calculate calories burned is by wearing a device that tracks your heart rate.

I spoke to a couple of nutritionists to understand if this approach can start a healthy eating pattern?

You can motivate people to be more physically active but a more holistic approach will be required to promote a calorie-centric thinking of food. Now 90 calories of an apple are same as that of a biscuit, no label can teach people the nutritional value of food. 
Arundhati Nikkam, Nutritionist
Activity labels will have a one-size-fits-all approach towards calories that will not take into account the person’s weight, fitness levels and metabolism. And something as shame-y as this can trigger off eating disorders.
Kanchan Patwardan, Nutritionist

The shame-y bit can make exercise feel like punishment and some experts feel that it can promote a calorie-centric eating disorder where instead of just skipping chips, people will start cancelling out salads and vegetables from their diets too. It is particularly dangerous for people who have an eating disorder.

Such labels haven’t actually been put in motion, but initiate an important conversation that diet and exercise are just two pieces of the bigger puzzle of our overall health.

What are your thoughts on such a move? What if it were to become a real thing - would it be of any benefit or you really wouldn’t care to access that kind of information?

Also Read: How to Read a Medicine Label like a Boss

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