Are Exercise Based Food Warning Labels A Good Idea?

Hi BodyRockers, 

We have an interesting topic in today’s BodyRock News, a subject that is ripe for debate. As a society in the midst of a growing obesity epidemic, is it time to consider food warning labels?

According to recent studies, placing labels on food with the amount of exercise needed to burn off the calories in it could possibly help people make more informed choices about how much food they consume. 

Can food warning labels help curb obesity?

The labeling system is called the ‘physical activity calorie equivalent’ (PACE), and has shown that it can help people reduce their daily caloric intake by approximately 200 calories. 

Ask yourself - if that favorite candy bar that is already clearly labeled to contain 250 calories, told you that you would have to run for 25 minutes to burn off it’s calorie impact, would you be as quick to pick it up and eat it? Would it make any difference to you or influence your decision making process?

Wait - do warning labels even work? 

Do warning labels work?

In certain states and countries, cigarettes have graphic warning labels, complete with  graphic pictures of people suffering and dying from smoking related diseases. From google: ‘It’s been found that these warning labels increase the likelihood that smokers will quit, but they do not change belief in the risk of harm. The results indicated that these image based warnings were more effective at preventing smoking or getting smokers to quit than just text warnings on the packaging.’

PACE food labeling

Interesting. So image based warnings have been shown to have the greatest impact. So would a warning image & the PACE exercise label be the best approach? And what kind of debate would the content of the image warning label raise? The Body Acceptance and Positivity movement would likely balk at placing the image of an overweight or obese person on a food warning label. What negative impact would this have on people with disordered eating? As soon as you start to talk about the practical application of labels, things would get dicey, which might be the best indication of why PACE labeling and explicit food warning labels have never been officially rolled out. 

Do the rewards outweigh the risks? There have been roughly 15 studies on PACE food labels in the last 5 years, and the result of those studies show that when people are aware of the ‘cost’ of food from a calorie perspective, they eat a little less, about 80 - 100 calories per meal. The intention of those in favour of PACE food labels is to make people more aware of the energy cost of food so that they can make better choices and decide if certain food choices are worth it. 

PACE food label warning

Not everyone thinks food labels are a good idea. The backlash has come from nutritionists that argue that not all calories are created equal, and that shifting the focus of food labels away from nutritional values to focus more attention on calories will ultimately lead people to make poor nutritional choices in favour of low calorie foods that may not be as nutritious. PACE supporters have countered this concern by arguing that nutritional information is already present on most food labels, and has done nothing to curb the rising obesity epidemic. 

What do you think? Would more information in the form of PACE labels on food products, or graphic warning labels be helpful, or do the potential risks of further labeling food cause more harm than good? As always, we would love to hear from you in the comments. 




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