Exercise labels on food: physical health or mental distress?

A proposal to mark foods with exercise guidelines to encourage better diet habits has sparked a debate on the physical and mental impacts of nutrition guidelines. 

Physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labelling would inform buyers about the physical effort required to lose consumed calories. In an example published by researchers in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a 229 calorie bar of chocolate would require 42 minutes of walking or 22 minutes of running.

The Royal Society for Public Health supported the proposal and believed many customers would feel the same.

NHS Digital has reported that 29% of adults and 20% of year six students are classified as obese in the UK.

Several buyers felt labelling food as such would help them make more informed choices or better plan their exercise routines. 

The research claimed: “Unlike other types of food labelling, PACE labelling has the potential to serve as a continual reminder to the public about the importance of participating in regular physical activity to ensure good energy balance.”

However, there was some backlash from those who have experienced eating disorders.

Photo by WALK_ on Unsplash

Student, Katie Roberts, 23, said: “I think it’s a terrible idea. I think anybody who’s had problems with eating in the past would be horrified to hear this might happen. When you’re thinking about calories anyway and you’re feeling guilty about food, that could almost be encouraging that sort of behaviour.”

Mental health advocate and speaker, Hope Virgo, said: “As someone who had anorexia, a huge part of my illness was wrapped up in exercise.
This will be extremely  triggering for people with eating disorders but also goes wider than this. We are creating a society terrified of food and feeling hungry.

“I was obsessed with exercise with my eating disorder and it was something I had to do all the time. It nearly killed me,” she added.

The study highlighted there was not much earlier evidence to support the influence of food labels in changing eating behaviour.

People speak about PACE labelling on foods
Audio Credit: Ophelia Parish