Activity labelling on food – could this be the answer?

Date: 08/02/2016 Written by: Jo 3 minutes to read.

A recent report has suggested that detailing the amount of exercise required to offset the calories contained in foods would make people think twice about consuming the product and encourage them to do the physical activity indicated on the packaging. Is this what we need to fight the UK's increasing obesity problem? Or better yet, would it actually work?

There’s no getting away from it - the UK’s obesity problem is reaching a critically high level. With almost two thirds of adults in England being classified as overweight or obese, we can't continue to ignore this growing issue. Action is needed - but can we all agree what that action is?

A recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has found that labels on food which detail information on how much exercise is required to offset the calories contained in foods would be supported - and can work. In a survey of more than 2000 people, over 60% said they would like the see the inclusion of this type of labelling on food packaging, and that it would make them think twice about consuming the product if the exercise required to offset the calories was high. The survey also found that the move would encourage people to do more exercise, which may perhaps be because they have a quantifiable 'goal' to work towards.

This leads to the question – what is exercise labelling on food? Put simply, it means the inclusion of a small icon on food labels which indicates how long, in minutes, it would take to walk, run, cycle or swim, in order to offset the amount of calories contained within the food item.

(Source: BBC)

It is hoped that the inclusion of this type of information on food packaging will help consumers to make a more informed choice on what they eat – providing this information gives the customer quantifiable details relating to exercise, that may make them think twice about choosing an unhealthy product. Alternatively, the customer may still choose to consume the product but will also be encouraged to participate in more exercise to offset their food habit.

The danger here, of course, is that people may form the opinion that by offsetting the calorie intake of what they have consumed, this then allows them to eat what they like, as long as they continue to do the amount of exercise indicated on the packet, which simply isn’t the case. An expert cardiologist advisor suggests that while increased exercise levels from the packaging would be an overall positive, people still need to be mindful that you cannot ‘out-eat’ a poor diet – different calories have differing metabolic effects on the body (Source: The Guardian).

A nutritionist discusses the pros and cons of exercising labelling on food packaging

The Food and Drink Federation have described the concept as ‘interesting’ and may be looked into in the near future. The current nutritional ‘traffic light system’ on food packaging has already been a welcome improvement, although it may not be having as much impact as hoped. The RSPH suggest that a change such as exercise labelling on food is a much more relatable concept to the consumers’ everyday lifestyle and acts as a gentle nudge towards positive health behaviours such as nutrition awareness and exercise uptake.

What do you think? We would love to hear your thoughts. Submit your comments below.

Interested in trialling this initiative in your area? Contact us.

You might also like

Get the latest insights and other interesting changemaker stuff in your inbox.

Once or twice a month, 100% real and interesting, 0% spam.
We create meaningful digital products that connect with people and make positive change possible.

Home of the changemakers.

We just need a bit more info

* indicates required

Marketing Permissions

Social Change will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

Marketing preferences

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Project Planner