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RSPH calls for activity equivalent calorie labelling

7 April 2016  •  Author(s): Victoria White, Digital Content Producer

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is calling for the introduction of ‘activity equivalent’ calorie labelling on food and drink to help tackle obesity.


In a RSPH public poll, consumer use of front-of pack labels was found to be relatively high with over half (56%) of people using the labelling to decide what they purchase. On average, consumers spend around 6 seconds looking at food before purchasing and are most likely to look for total calories on food labels, rather than other forms of nutritional information. However, RSHP says that consumer literacy around calorie intake is poor and that provision of calorie information without a clear interpretation might limit the usefulness of such information to the public. RSHP says that front-of-pack information should utilise calorie information in a way that can positively influence behaviour change. They say that information on food must be presented in a medium that can be understood by all sections of society. RSHP adds that as consumers understand symbols more easily than numeric information, activity equivalent calorie labels may provide an easier reference for people less able to decipher current front-of-pack labels.

RHSP is therefore proposing that food packaging should display activity equivalent calorie information alongside current front-of-pack information, showing how much physical activity would roughly equate to the calories in the product. They say that targeting unhealthy food products with such an intervention may positively influence behaviour change and should be priority to counter obesity trends.

The Society adds that calorie equivalent activity labelling could have the added benefit of reminding the public of the importance of being active. RSPH’s own research has shown that activity equivalent calorie information has the potential to influence individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices. People were over 3 times more likely to indicate they would undertake physical activity after viewing activity equivalent calorie labels over current traffic light style front-of-pack information.


‘An interesting concept’ says FDF’s Tim Rycroft

In support of RSPH’s proposed calorie equivalent activity labelling, Tim Rycroft, Corporate Affairs Director at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Weight gain occurs when more calories are consumed than are burned during physical activity. For this reason, initiatives which reinforce the well understood calorie message and encourage people to be more active are to be encouraged.

“As an industry, we are looking at what more we can do to help people use the existing nutrition information provided to understand how different foods and drinks fit within a healthy lifestyle. Activity equivalent information is an interesting concept and the role it could play in driving meaningful behaviour change is certainly worth exploring. However, we believe further research is needed into whether activity equivalent calorie information could be an effective way of encouraging consumers to achieve a healthier lifestyle. EU rules which dictate what companies can and cannot put on their food labels would need to be considered in any proposals to add to on-pack information.”

2 responses to “RSPH calls for activity equivalent calorie labelling”

  1. Peter Higgins says:

    This is still not addressing the fundamental problem of people not eating healthy food and it is once again letting the food companies off the hook!

  2. Jenny says:

    Brilliant idea – say how many hours of walking for an average adult male are needed to use up one serving and for the whole packet of processed food

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