Health Experts Want to Shame You by Putting Exercise Labels on Food

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Hello, ma’am, food police here. Are you sure you want to eat those chips?

The U.K.’s Royal Society for Public Health is advocating for packaged food to be labeled with the amount of exercise it would take to burn off a serving in an effort to change eating behaviors, and hopefully reduce obesity. It’s an admirable goal considering just last week we learned that obese people now outnumber underweight people globally. Unfortunately, more gym time isn’t going to solve this problem.

In a viewpoint published in the journal BMJ, chief executive of the RSPH Shirley Cramer argues that since research shows people ignore calorie counts, activity labels on the front would help people make better choices. Specifically, “the aim is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, to encourage them to be more physically active.” [Emphasis mine.]

When the RSPH conducted a survey on this concept, a little more than half of adults said they would act differently if they saw activity labels, either by eating less, eating something else, or getting active. (That also means that close to half of those surveyed said they wouldn’t change a thing, which is another story.)

Cramer acknowledges the mounting evidence suggesting that you literally can’t outrun a bad diet and that exercise has its own benefits, but she also says, “The public is used to being told to avoid particular drinks and to cut down on specific foods. By contrast, activity labelling encourages people to start something, rather than calling for them to stop.” People prefer this more positive framing, she told Time. But it’s not all that helpful, and it’s honestly a little shame-y.

The proposed labels imply that if you eat chips or chocolate and then do some form of active penance, it all cancels out. Ignoring the fact that it’s not advisable to burn off every calorie that passes through our lips, working out isn’t going to help with weight loss as much as we’ve been led to believe. The consensus is leaning toward the idea that we simply need to eat less. True, some people who see a label telling them a cookie will cost them two miles of running won’t eat the cookie, but from that mind-set, it means cookies aren’t allowed without punishment.