This was originally posted last December.
A recent study published in the Journal of Public Health reportedly found that labeling soft drinks with the amount of exercise a person would have to do to burn off the calories was a far more effective deterrent to consumption than the traditional caloric label. This is an interesting approach but I have a few qualms about it. Apparently the study was done by posting signs outside a corner store. I’m not sure how this would translate onto packaging labels. There is a limited amount of space for placing such information and I don’t think that it should replace the current nutrition information as it contains fewer details. I am also concerned about readability. The most recent statistic I could find indicated that 48% of Canadian adults have substandard literacy rates. I think that it’s really important that we ensure any new labelling be accessible to that half of our population.
Another major concern I have is how this figure is determined. One of the signs used in the study read “Did you know that working off a bottle of fizzy drink or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?”. It’s very difficult to place a figure on the number of calories the “average” person will burn during exercise as our sizes and fitness levels play a huge role in determining how many calories we burn during exercise. According to my Nike+ app I burnt over 500 calories in an approximately 50 minute run yesterday. That’s more than twice the amount suggested by the sign used in the study. I’m a relatively small and fit person, generally someone who is larger and less fit will burn even more calories doing the same amount of exercise. I question whether we should be providing the public with such potentially inaccurate information.
Is this even how we want people to be thinking about food and beverages and exercise? Should we be painting exercise as a punishment for consuming food and drink? Wouldn’t it be better to encourage people to enjoy healthy food that they’ve prepared themselves? And to find an exercise that they can take pleasure from? Yes, as a society we are clearly over-indulging. However, I don’t think that serving up extra portions of guilt with everything we eat is the answer.