Does the calorie count in foods matter to you? Do you pay attention to a serving size, counting out your Teddy Grahams before enjoying? Most people don’t realize how the calories they consume actually translate to energy used. So some health experts are pushing for more literal food labeling. For instance, what if the label on your bag of chips said that it would take 16 minutes of constant running to burn off the 160 calories inside? Would you reach for an apple instead? (You can burn off a medium-sized apple by running just seven minutes, or climbing about 25 flights of stairs, by the way.)
In the United States, a recent regulation requires calorie counts on packages to be printed bigger. Red, yellow, and green labels signal the healthfulness of some foods in the United Kingdom. (Green means “healthy”; red means “unhealthy.”) But with obesity rates still high, researchers are considering more dramatic communication.
One attention-grabbing idea is labeling foods with exercise examples. Say a chocolate bar has 230 calories. Alongside that number, the label would show icons indicating that 230 calories translates to 42 minutes of walking or 22 minutes of running.
Experts worry that numbers alone don’t say enough. And the “traffic light” system doesn’t explain why a food gets its labeling. Is it “red” because of too much fat? Sugar? Something else?
Amanda Daley is a professor of behavioral medicine at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. She favors trying the new icons to communicate how much activity each food will fuel. But others disagree.
Obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff says the labeling idea will reinforce negative attitudes about exercise. He fears responses like, “Ugh! I have to swim 35 minutes to earn just one serving of Oreos!”
God made our bodies to work like wonderful machines. Food is fuel for activity and growth. Work and exercise are good things, not punishment. And food—even though it can be misused—is meant for enjoyment even while it serves to sustain us. God obviously expects us to care for our bodies well. He even uses that concern as an example for how Christ loves and cares for His people. Ephesians 5:29 says, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
Making healthy and well-balanced choices that become long-term habits is still a challenge. Information that’s easy to put into action may help. Do you think the activity labels would be a positive or a negative for you?