Researchers have found that labelling foods with the amount of physical activity needed to burn off calories, rather than the current system of food labelling by calorie numbers and nutrient content, could lead to healthier dietary choices.

The research, led by Loughborough University and published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, examined Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent (PACE) food labelling which aims to show how many minutes or miles of physical activity are needed to burn off the calories in a particular food or drink.

For example, eating 230 calories in a small bar of chocolate would require about 46 minutes of walking, or 23 minutes of running, to burn off these calories.

The research team says the current system of food labelling by calorie and nutrient content is poorly understood, and there’s little evidence that it is altering food consumption or purchasing decisions.

In the study, the project team examined data from relevant randomised controlled studies and found that when PACE labelling was displayed on food and drink items and on menus, on average, significantly fewer calories — around 65 less per meal — were selected.

PACE labelling was also associated with the consumption of around 80 to 100 fewer calories than no food labelling and other types of labelling.

They concluded that labelling food and drinks with the amount and type of physical activity needed to burn off the calories in it might be a more effective way of encouraging people to make healthier dietary choices.

The UK Royal Society for Public Health has already called for PACE labelling to replace the current food labelling system.

Professor Amanda Daley says PACE labelling is a “a simple strategy” that could easily be included on food and drinks packaging by manufacturers, on shelving price labels in supermarkets, and in menus in restaurants and fast-food outlets, in the interests of preventing and treating obesity and related diseases.

Last reviewed 12 December 2019