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Activity-equivalent calorie labelling

RoxieDawnRoxieDawn Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member
A conversation going on in my house today about this. It was on the news this morning and found it quite intriguing...

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/food-labels-exercise-1.3523084

I am curious of everyone's thoughts on this and debate the pro's and con's of doing such labeling in the UK and perhaps bringing it into the US?
edited April 2016
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Replies

  • lemurcat12lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886Member Member Posts: 30,886Member Member
    Can't be done accurately (calories burned depends on how much you weigh, how fast you run/bike/swim). Also, seems kind of silly to me.
  • goldthistimegoldthistime Posts: 3,248Member Member Posts: 3,248Member Member
    It would be misinformation to include a graphic on the label showing how long you need to exercise to burn off the food you are about to consume. We vary too much in our ability to burn calories during exercise (weight, height, male/female, fitness level etc). In addition, although there are exceptions, I agree with the comment "You can't outrun your fork".
  • BecomingBaneBecomingBane Posts: 3,648Member Member Posts: 3,648Member Member
    I would have the same concerns as the above posters. Sure, you could have an estimate, but how accurate that would be for any given individual would vary greatly depending on bodyweight, effort, any potential metabolic disorders, etc.

    The number provided would, it seems, for many, be inaccurate enough to create deep and consistent tracking errors that could stall any attempts at loss.
  • RoxieDawnRoxieDawn Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member
    We here in MFP understand what a "calorie" is, but the vast majority of the public does not? I personally just knew "food" and not "calories" was just something I ate too much of to gain weight..

    Personally I do think this idea is a bit outrageous, but while I am letting the jury be out on this subject curious as to others here that have an ideas on the subject.

    In my current fitness level to burn off that muffin, I have to to run about 3 - 4 miles to burn those 200+ calories. The notion that a runner can burn off that muffin in 13 minute is ludicrous.

  • kgeyserkgeyser Posts: 22,520Member, MFP Moderator, Greeter, Premium MFP Moderator Posts: 22,520Member, MFP Moderator, Greeter, Premium MFP Moderator
    I like the idea, although I would like to see the addition of a walking icon. I don't think that having it not be accurate for everyone is necessarily a problem, as the %DV that is currently on labels isn't accurate for everyone either, but it at least gives you an idea.

    I disagree with Freedhoff's criticisms that it would mislead people to believe that exercise and weight loss are tightly linked. We all know that activity level and weight are linked through TDEE, and while overconsumption of food is what leads to weight gain, I think it's foolish not to acknowledge that for many people that "overconsumption" directly correlates to their activity level. They aren't overeating by fantastical amounts, they're eating slightly over their activity level and the weight comes on slowly over a long period of time. I think the images could help people to be more aware of how much they are eating and how active they are, and assist them in making better choices. It's just another way to help people figure out whether eating a certain food is "worth it" to them, much like those who are tracking decide based on calories and macros.
  • RoxieDawnRoxieDawn Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member
    kgeyser wrote: »
    I like the idea, although I would like to see the addition of a walking icon. I don't think that having it not be accurate for everyone is necessarily a problem, as the %DV that is currently on labels isn't accurate for everyone either, but it at least gives you an idea.

    I disagree with Freedhoff's criticisms that it would mislead people to believe that exercise and weight loss are tightly linked. We all know that activity level and weight are linked through TDEE, and while overconsumption of food is what leads to weight gain, I think it's foolish not to acknowledge that for many people that "overconsumption" directly correlates to their activity level. They aren't overeating by fantastical amounts, they're eating slightly over their activity level and the weight comes on slowly over a long period of time. I think the images could help people to be more aware of how much they are eating and how active they are, and assist them in making better choices. It's just another way to help people figure out whether eating a certain food is "worth it" to them, much like those who are tracking decide based on calories and macros.

    Nice post! It is possible that once the images are there, it will spark awareness in the beginning, and hopefully the awareness would motivate, etc...

    I did not pay any attention to food labeling until I came to MFP.. so I am wondering how much of the public actually do read the labeling now?
  • moe0303moe0303 Posts: 933Member Member Posts: 933Member Member
    At first, I was like "Pftt, that's stupid", but the more I think about it, I can see it as being useful." However, if the aim is to curb obesity, I think the standard should be based on an average obese person instead of a 170lb 35yo man. I am also against mandates and state run regulation of it, but that's another story. I think I would support it if it was a voluntary, or maybe even incentivized, program in which food manufacturers could choose to participate or not.
    I would have the same concerns as the above posters. Sure, you could have an estimate, but how accurate that would be for any given individual would vary greatly depending on bodyweight, effort, any potential metabolic disorders, etc.

    The number provided would, it seems, for many, be inaccurate enough to create deep and consistent tracking errors that could stall any attempts at loss.

    I also have these concerns, but they could be overcome by identifying the target audience and labeling standards. So for the running icon, they could have a little "5mph" label, for example.
    edited April 2016
  • RoxieDawnRoxieDawn Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member Posts: 15,518Member, Premium Member
    All of these posts are thought provoking.

    And while a one size will not fit all, perhaps a one size fits most can be derived as to what the walk and run images would look like on the labels and 'target audience" is the key here just like the labels are for "2000 calorie diet"...
  • lemurcat12lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886Member Member Posts: 30,886Member Member
    RoxieDawn wrote: »
    We here in MFP understand what a "calorie" is, but the vast majority of the public does not? I personally just knew "food" and not "calories" was just something I ate too much of to gain weight..

    Personally I do think this idea is a bit outrageous, but while I am letting the jury be out on this subject curious as to others here that have an ideas on the subject.

    In my current fitness level to burn off that muffin, I have to to run about 3 - 4 miles to burn those 200+ calories. The notion that a runner can burn off that muffin in 13 minute is ludicrous.

    Running calorie burn is largely dependent on weight and miles (so calorie burn per minute varies a ton based on how big you are and how fast you are). For example, the RunningWorld calculator tells me that if I am 200 lb and run 2 miles in 15 minutes (quite reasonable for a somewhat fit guy, although not something I could have done at 200 lb, since I am 5'3), I burn 303 calories. For me, if I run the same speed, I burn 189 calories (at 125). If I run slower, say 20 minutes, I burn the same amount in the longer time period.

    These are estimates that include what you would have burnt in that time period anyway, also -- probably you should back that out.

    Anyway, as you can see, it's simply not possible to have a useful measure.

    I think calories are fine -- it's not that people don't get what they are, but that most people would rather not look at them or have no idea what a sensible amount for them in a day is. When I first started thinking about losing weight, I knew calories were what mattered (and I did read labels for other things like ingredients), but that seemed overwhelming (this was back in 2003), as I didn't know what a sensible calorie amount for me was or what I did consume. I ended up making a list of what I usually ate in a day and cutting from that or making replacements.
    edited April 2016
  • lemurcat12lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886Member Member Posts: 30,886Member Member
    kgeyser wrote: »
    I think it's foolish not to acknowledge that for many people that "overconsumption" directly correlates to their activity level. They aren't overeating by fantastical amounts, they're eating slightly over their activity level and the weight comes on slowly over a long period of time.

    I agree that activity matters, but I think icons like that could give people the idea that if they aren't willing to run or do the other exercises pictured they might as well give up when in reality for a lot of people increasing activity is simply a matter of moving more, as in walking instead of driving or just generally getting up and walking or otherwise moving more.

    For me focusing on running and other exercise goals has been a huge motivator (I was more interested in getting fit again than losing the weight, although obviously I wanted both), but I meet people who use the idea that you have to do unpleasant to them exercises (saying stuff like "I'd never want to run a 10K or spend time at the gym") as a reason to say they just can't lose weight. So I think Freedhoff has a point.

    I also see a lot of people on MFP confused about calorie burn, who think you have to exercise intentionally to burn off any calories, and I think this is confusing in that way too. I don't have to exercise off everything I eat, obviously, and should not (and probably should not use "oh, I can just go run another 2 miles" as an excuse to eat snacks I'd otherwise pass up--whenever I start doing stuff like that, I end up justifying overeating).
    edited April 2016
  • kgeyserkgeyser Posts: 22,520Member, MFP Moderator, Greeter, Premium MFP Moderator Posts: 22,520Member, MFP Moderator, Greeter, Premium MFP Moderator
    lemurcat12 wrote: »
    kgeyser wrote: »
    I think it's foolish not to acknowledge that for many people that "overconsumption" directly correlates to their activity level. They aren't overeating by fantastical amounts, they're eating slightly over their activity level and the weight comes on slowly over a long period of time.

    I agree that activity matters, but I think icons like that could give people the idea that if they aren't willing to run or do the other exercises pictured they might as well give up when in reality for a lot of people increasing activity is simply a matter of moving more, as in walking instead of driving or just generally getting up and walking or otherwise moving more.

    For me focusing on running and other exercise goals has been a huge motivator (I was more interested in getting fit again than losing the weight, although obviously I wanted both), but I meet people who use the idea that you have to do unpleasant to them exercises (saying stuff like "I'd never want to run a 10K or spend time at the gym") as a reason to say they just can't lose weight. So I think Freedhoff has a point.

    I also see a lot of people on MFP confused about calorie burn, who think you have to exercise intentionally to burn off any calories, and I think this is confusing in that way too. I don't have to exercise off everything I eat, obviously, and should not (and probably should not use "oh, I can just go run another 2 miles" as an excuse to eat snacks I'd otherwise pass up--whenever I start doing stuff like that, I end up justifying overeating).

    Well, I did say in my first paragraph that I'd like to see a walking icon as well, and that was because I personally think the walking one would be more helpful given the popularity of activity trackers and because it's something that requires little to no resources, unlike the other activities listed. I don't see the icons as telling people they need to go do those things, or that if they do not they should give up; rather, I see them as a reality check in terms of activity and calories.

    We do see people confused about calorie burns in terms of thinking they need to intentionally exercise their calorie burn to zero, but we also see people who think that they burned 800 calories on the elliptical in 20 minutes. I like the icons because they give people a more realistic sense of the caloric cost of food items, even if it's not exact. I think it's a good step in raising awareness about diet and activity, and putting it on the food allows the information to reach a wider audience at a much lower cost. Much like moving more in general helps to increase calorie burn, putting down a single food item because you realize that you won't be able to get in the activity you would need to burn it off. The article gave an example of a blueberry muffin at 265 calories - that's a half pound per week loss if someone opts to skip the muffin each day.
  • stevencloserstevencloser Posts: 8,917Member Member Posts: 8,917Member Member
    lemurcat12 wrote: »
    Can't be done accurately (calories burned depends on how much you weigh, how fast you run/bike/swim). Also, seems kind of silly to me.

    Agreed, also it leaves out how the lion's share of your daily calorie burns is just from living.
    People who don't realize that might think they "have to" do the equivalent of exercise to not get fat and end up with negative net calories in a day or stupid crap like that. Could facilitate some eating disorders.
  • French_PeasantFrench_Peasant Posts: 1,631Member Member Posts: 1,631Member Member
    I don't understand why the Royal Society people don't think about this more creatively since they want to be "creative and in your face"--why is the first impulse to shove it down companies' throats and force this labeling on packages? It seems like a more clever approach would be a "make it fit by staying fit" ad campaign that could partner with companies and actually *educate* the public, rather than making complicated and mostly-ignored packaging data even worse, more complicated and more dense.

    There would probably still be some resistance from companies, but they could probably be "persuaded" to donate a pittance of their marketing budget and show an ad with (say) 3 oreos and an icon for 45 minutes of brisk walking along with the other exercises, and a well-publicized website where you can actually access a calculator that shows your calorie burn for a more finely tuned exercise (walking at 3.0 mph, running at 8 mph, biking at 10 mph, etc.) What's in it for the companies is that they get to show altruism and a concern for public health, while having their stack of oreos featured on the side of a bus or magazine ad along with the commonsense message that you can enjoy this but also make sure you are doing activities to burn it off.

    That being said, if anything should be more prominent on packaging, it should be to have the calorie count and serving size prominently labelled on the front of the package. I find it very tedious to locate the calorie count in teeny-tiny lettering on a clear, wrinkled wrapper.

    Of course this all depends on the public actually caring about their weight, which, for the most part, they don't. Once you care, it's extremely easy to educate yourself.
  • NorthCascadesNorthCascades Posts: 9,415Member Member Posts: 9,415Member Member
    moe0303 wrote: »
    At first, I was like "Pftt, that's stupid", but the more I think about it, I can see it as being useful."

    The main thing counting calories taught me is that I have an energy budget, just like a money one. I can "spend" all my calories on salt and vinegar chips if I want to, I can do that and lose weight even, it just means I'll be hungry. Or I can "spend" my calories more wisely and not deal with hunger. It's my choice. Of course I'll make a better choice if I have better information available to me. I think about snacks in terms of how they'll affect my calorie budget now, and also in terms of what exercise I have to do to clear the books, and decide if a snack is worth it.

    I do all this because I took the time to learn how. Ultimately I feel it's my responsibility to do right for myself, and on that note I trust my own calorie figures more than I'd trust these labels. But we're going through an obesity epidemic and obesity-related ailments cost our public health system more than smoking-related ones. Desperate times call for desperate measures; not that making information available to people is really a desperate measure. Ultimately I'd prefer to live in a world with more healthy people and more labels, instead of a world with more unhealthy people and more corporate freedom.
  • lemurcat12lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886Member Member Posts: 30,886Member Member
    That being said, if anything should be more prominent on packaging, it should be to have the calorie count and serving size prominently labelled on the front of the package. I find it very tedious to locate the calorie count in teeny-tiny lettering on a clear, wrinkled wrapper.

    Agree.
    Of course this all depends on the public actually caring about their weight, which, for the most part, they don't. Once you care, it's extremely easy to educate yourself.

    And agree with this too.
  • AlabasterVerveAlabasterVerve Posts: 3,138Member Member Posts: 3,138Member Member
    I think it would end up being just another way to market junk food and will do nothing to help people manage their weight.

    I'd much rather they require the calories be given for a 100g (regardless of the typical serving size) and for the entire package and do away with serving sizes altogether -- that's much more useful for those counting calories, IMO. And as a bonus the information can't be manipulated.
  • French_PeasantFrench_Peasant Posts: 1,631Member Member Posts: 1,631Member Member
    moe0303 wrote: »
    At first, I was like "Pftt, that's stupid", but the more I think about it, I can see it as being useful."

    The main thing counting calories taught me is that I have an energy budget, just like a money one. I can "spend" all my calories on salt and vinegar chips if I want to, I can do that and lose weight even, it just means I'll be hungry. Or I can "spend" my calories more wisely and not deal with hunger. It's my choice. Of course I'll make a better choice if I have better information available to me. I think about snacks in terms of how they'll affect my calorie budget now, and also in terms of what exercise I have to do to clear the books, and decide if a snack is worth it.

    I do all this because I took the time to learn how. Ultimately I feel it's my responsibility to do right for myself, and on that note I trust my own calorie figures more than I'd trust these labels. But we're going through an obesity epidemic and obesity-related ailments cost our public health system more than smoking-related ones. Desperate times call for desperate measures; not that making information available to people is really a desperate measure. Ultimately I'd prefer to live in a world with more healthy people and more labels, instead of a world with more unhealthy people and more corporate freedom.

    False dichotomy. I agree packages should be labelled, but the rise of the obesity epidemic correlates with the rise of mandatory nutritional labeling in the US, which started in 1990. We all know correlation is not causation, but obviously the labels aren't helping anyone but the select few who are being careful about what they eat and still eating processed/packaged foods. Petty bureaucrats can bustle about all day and add bold print to this and fine print to that, and shove in a bunch of icons, and it will have zero effect. People don't care. If you want to have an effect, and put out a clear message about the scandalous number of calories in things, it would be smarter to use the slick, glossy and attention-grabbing propaganda tools that are being used to promote the packaged food in the first place.

    Ultimately I would prefer to live in a world where people used their free and very expensive educations (that my tax dollars helped pay for) to make healthy choices so I don't have to pay again for their medical care. I would also like this work to have flying rainbow unicorns being ridden by kittens with glittery whiskers.
  • NorthCascadesNorthCascades Posts: 9,415Member Member Posts: 9,415Member Member
    I don't think "the labels are only helping people who are being helped by the labels" is a very good argument against making information available to people who could benefit from having it.
    edited April 2016
  • moe0303moe0303 Posts: 933Member Member Posts: 933Member Member
    moe0303 wrote: »
    At first, I was like "Pftt, that's stupid", but the more I think about it, I can see it as being useful."

    The main thing counting calories taught me is that I have an energy budget, just like a money one. I can "spend" all my calories on salt and vinegar chips if I want to, I can do that and lose weight even, it just means I'll be hungry. Or I can "spend" my calories more wisely and not deal with hunger. It's my choice. Of course I'll make a better choice if I have better information available to me. I think about snacks in terms of how they'll affect my calorie budget now, and also in terms of what exercise I have to do to clear the books, and decide if a snack is worth it.

    I do all this because I took the time to learn how. Ultimately I feel it's my responsibility to do right for myself, and on that note I trust my own calorie figures more than I'd trust these labels. But we're going through an obesity epidemic and obesity-related ailments cost our public health system more than smoking-related ones. Desperate times call for desperate measures; not that making information available to people is really a desperate measure. Ultimately I'd prefer to live in a world with more healthy people and more labels, instead of a world with more unhealthy people and more corporate freedom.

    False dichotomy. I agree packages should be labelled, but the rise of the obesity epidemic correlates with the rise of mandatory nutritional labeling in the US, which started in 1990. We all know correlation is not causation, but obviously the labels aren't helping anyone but the select few who are being careful about what they eat and still eating processed/packaged foods. Petty bureaucrats can bustle about all day and add bold print to this and fine print to that, and shove in a bunch of icons, and it will have zero effect. People don't care. If you want to have an effect, and put out a clear message about the scandalous number of calories in things, it would be smarter to use the slick, glossy and attention-grabbing propaganda tools that are being used to promote the packaged food in the first place.

    Ultimately I would prefer to live in a world where people used their free and very expensive educations (that my tax dollars helped pay for) to make healthy choices so I don't have to pay again for their medical care. I would also like this work to have flying rainbow unicorns being ridden by kittens with glittery whiskers.
    That would never happen. Kittens are far too inexperienced to handle a full grown flying rainbow unicorn. Also, kittens turn into cats and cats are the devil.
  • lemurcat12lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886Member Member Posts: 30,886Member Member
    I don't think "the labels are only helping people who are being helped by the labels" is a very good argument against making information available to people who could benefit from having it.

    I must have missed it, but I haven't noticed anyone arguing against making information available.

    I am against providing people with information that is not accurate or confusing, which is one of the issues when deciding what labeling to provide -- there are so many things that could be disclosed that it could end up making the disclosures unhelpful, so choices need to be made, including how to display the information.

    For example, a lot of people seem to think that a package of two largish cookies is labeled 2 servings (this is hypothetical) because the manufacturer is trying to be tricky. The truth is that the US gov't requires it, because the gov't's current position is that is better to educate people on what an appropriate serving size is than to help normalize overly large serving sizes, even if many people are likely eating the whole package and may misread the label (although I personally have very little patience with the argument that the current labels are too hard to understand -- serving size 2 isn't that complicated, although 3.5 as on some canned tomatoes is kind of annoying). On this particular question I can see both sides and think both are reasonable positions (I'm inclined to the gov't POV, but wouldn't care much if the policy changed).

    Anyway, I don't like the exercise on the label idea -- I think there are better ways the labeling could be changed -- but it wouldn't upset me or anything if it were added.
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