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Food labels may show how much exercise to do to burn off calories

Would you still eat a chocolate bar if you knew you had to walk for an hour to burn off the calories?

Researchers in Britain believe people will cut down their consumption of junk food if they realise exactly how long they’d need to exercise afterwards in order to avoid weight gain. Most people don’t pay much attention to calorie counts on junk food labels, and they usually don’t stick to the small serving size suggestions. Some researchers think they are more likely to relate to minutes spent exercising afterwards instead.

According to Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, “People find symbols much easier to understand than numerical information, and activity equivalent calorie labels are easy to understand, particularly for lower socioeconomic groups who often lack nutritional knowledge and health literacy. For example, the calories in a can of fizzy drink take a person of average age and weight about 26 minutes to walk off.”

The problem with this idea is it isn’t very accurate at all. People burn calories at very different rates. Not everyone will burn the same amount of calories after a half hour walk. Also, many people wouldn’t gain any weight at all from an extra can of soda, whereas others (particularly people with syndrome X) might gain four pounds even if they do exercise.

This method also implies you can burn off a bad diet. This is simply not true.

Eating junk food significantly raises your risk of serious diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer even if you are slim. This labeling idea also makes it seem like exercise is a punishment for eating unhealthy food or too much food. People who view exercise as a punishment don’t end up sticking with it for long. Ideally, you would find an activity you enjoy and do it regularly because it gives you energy, makes you feel calm afterwards and helps improve your sleep quality. Exercise has so many benefits apart from burning calories.

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