Jogging 23 Minutes For A Candy Bar: New Study On Food Warnings

You would have to walk for four hours to burn the calories from a pizza – do we want to read that on the package? A meta-analysis examined whether a “sports label” would spoil our appetite – and lead us to eat fewer calories. However, there is a lot of criticism of the approach.

How must food be labeled so that we can make better purchasing decisions and eat healthier? This question is one of the concerns of the Federal Ministry of Food, which – after a long back and forth – is now in favor of the Nutri-Score food traffic light.

Another concept is the so-called PACE Food Labelling. The abbreviation stands for “physical activity calorie equivalent”. The label shows a box showing the calories contained in a food and two other boxes showing how many minutes it would take to jog or walk to burn them off. It thus emphasizes the aspect of exercise, which is just as important for a healthy lifestyle as nutrition.

A chocolate bar converted into sports minutes

With the PACE system, you get a strong reminder that pizza should take a four-hour digestive walk—and that the calories from a salad would be gone in just 15 minutes. Or learn that 230 calories from a small candy bar would take about 46 minutes to walk or 23 minutes to jog. Such a realization could hurt. Scientists from the British University of Loughborough have now investigated how much.

In a meta-analysis, they evaluated 14 studies on this topic, the results were published in the “Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health”. The researchers found that the PACE label was able to slightly reduce calorie intake: on average, consumers selected foods with about 65 fewer calories (per meal). Compared to other labels or no labels at all, they consumed around 80 to 100 fewer calories.

On average 200 calories saved per day

If you calculate with three meals a day and two additional snacks, according to the researchers, you would save an estimated 200 calories. That doesn’t sound like much, but the scientists emphasize that even a small, long-term calorie reduction, combined with physical activity, could have a positive effect on health and curb obesity in the population.

The head of the study, Amanda J. Daley, therefore sees the PACE label as a promising approach and explains: “It is a simple strategy that can be easily integrated by manufacturers into the packaging of food and beverages, from supermarkets to price tags and from restaurants and Food chains could be integrated into menus.”

“Extremely problematic” for people with eating disorders

As temptingly simple and effective as the approach appears to counteract obesity, there is also criticism of the PACE label. “CNN” quotes Nichola Ludlam-Raine, a spokeswoman for the British Dietic Association, who assesses PACE as “extremely problematic” for people with eating disorders. Because the label suggests that food “deserves” and has to be trained again.

In addition, the label focuses exclusively on calories and not on the nutrients in the food – as is the case with the Nutri-Score, for example. Ludlam-Raine points out that you cannot compensate for a poor diet with sweets and soft drinks simply by exercising.

No study under real conditions yet

The current meta-analysis also has some weaknesses. Only relatively few studies were included and the results of the individual studies were sometimes very different. In addition, as the researchers themselves concede, most of the studies were carried out under laboratory conditions – investigations under real conditions, for example in supermarkets or restaurants, would have to follow.

The study does not provide any proof that the calorie warning label actually works and leads to consumers consuming less unhealthy food. And the label could possibly discourage some people from doing sport – because if you only work off a quarter of a pizza with an hour’s jog, you might not do it at all.

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Written by Paul Keller

With over 16 years of professional experience in the Hospitality Industry and a deep understanding of Nutrition, I am able to create and design recipes to suit all clients needs. Having worked with food developers and supply chain/technical professionals, I can analyze food and drink offerings by highlight where opportunities exist for improvement and have the potential to bring nutrition to supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.

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