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REUTERS/Shaun Best
Adding ‘activity counts’ to food packaging might better help consumers make more informed eating choices.

Knowing how long it takes to run off a pizza might help fight the obesity crisis

By Chase Purdy

If food companies listed on their products just how long a person would have to walk or run to burn off the calories they consumed, people would be healthier. At least, that’s what Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health says.

In an opinion piece published April 6 in the British Medical Journal, the society’s director, Shirley Cramer, argued that giving consumers an immediate link between a food’s energy content and physical activity will help them make more informed decisions about what they choose to eat. Calorie counts alone aren’t enough, she wrote. Some 44% of people in Britain find front-of-pack information confusing.

“Such information needs to be as simple as possible so that the public can easily decide what to buy and consume in the average six seconds people spend looking at food before buying,” Cramer wrote.

In Britain, more than two-thirds of the population are either overweight or obese. In the US, the National Institutes of Health estimates nearly 70% of the population is overweight or obese.

As part of its case, the Royal Society for Public Health drew up a table (pdf) that gives a sense how much exercise some types of foods and drinks would require to burn off:

Food type Calories (approx.) Walk off time Run off time
Soft drink 138 26 mins 13 min
Chocolate bar 229 42 min 22 min
Sandwich 445 1 hr 22 min 42 min
Large pizza 449 1 hr 23 min 43 min
Medium mocha 290 53 min 28 min
Potato chips 171 31 min 16 min
Dry roasted peanuts 296 54 min 28 min
Cinnamon roll 420 1 hr 17 min 40 min

Cramer wrote that there’s no evidence yet that activity labeling would change people’s behavior, but said initial work is promising. Public health advocates are interested.

The US food industry, represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, is typically leery of suggestions involving package redesign because it’s expensive. GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy said  while activity labeling is an interesting concept, it needs further research. When the US government mandated food be labeled with Nutrition Facts in the 1990s, the industry howled.