Last week I was asked to go onto Channel 5 News Live and talk about the Nutrition News that the Royal Society of Public Health are encouraging a new public health initiative – Activity Equivalent Calorie Labelling on foods.
The initiative suggests that as a way to tackling obesity – food intake AND inactivity – including an ‘activity label’, which tells people how much activity they would have to do to burn off the calories in a food, might help encourage people to make lifestyle changes. As you can imagine, this is quite a controversial suggestion and there seems to be much debate about the pros and cons of such a public health initiative.
Here is a link to the Channel 5 Live News questions that I was asked on Thursday PM:
The Royal Society of Public Health say that people currently spend on average only 6 seconds looking at the label on a food packet. They also suggest that most people find food labels very confusing, which may be limiting their ability to encourage people to make healthy choices.
As an example of what a food packet might look like the RSPH provided these images:
They suggest that this will be a quick reference guide and not simply another image to add to already confusing information on food labels.
There has been a lot of debate on this topic on social media, both before and after I did my interview with Channel 5. Some are fairly pro and some are strongly against it. However, anecdotal evidence I collected from asking the producer of Channel 5, the taxi driver on the way to the studios, a friend and a few colleagues suggested that it might make people think twice about either upping there exercise, or choosing a different snack.
So after much consideration on this topic, and taking many people’s opinions on board, here is a list of my own opinions on the pros and cons of such a campaign. I’d love to hear more from what you think too.
- This scheme focuses on BOTH physical activity AND nutrition. Ultimately we want to make changes to both to get people moving more and eating less.
- We NEED to make a change and multiple interventions are the way to do this. Additionally RSPH’s own research suggests that people found it would help them make healthier choices.
- This puts calories into perspective and gives them a visual/practical guide, which can be useful for people to whom 200kcals means nothing.
- This is not individually targeted and doesn’t take into account that the activity you burn with vary greatly from person to person dependent on age, activity status, health, sex and other aspects.
- It also ignores the nutritional contribution that food has. Food is so much more than just calories and the nutrient value of our foos, such as how much fibre, vitamins and minerals are in a product need to be taken into account.
- There is a risk that some healthy foods such as nuts, avocado and olive oil might come across as ‘bad foods’ and people may be encouraged to swap from healthy products with plenty of nutrients to empty calories like those from a packet of crisps!
- Lastly, we live in a faddy, extremist and quick-fix food society, where people are already made to feel guilty about the foods they eat and end up cutting out whole foods or food groups and even foods they enjoy from their diet. Many people have said to me that they eat very well all week and don’t want to be made to feel even more guilty about having a chocolate bar at the weekend.
I’ve mentioned before about my love for food and how I hate the way we see foods as good, bad and evil. Moderation is what it’s all about and we don’t want to encourage more orthorexia or faddy eating practices with an initiative like this.
That said with around 62% of the population overweight or obese, there are more people who DO need to make a change to their health than those people who don’t! To some extent, this needs fixing. No matter how it’s done!