Imagine this—you’re consuming a nice deep dish pizza. The crust is so moist and the cheese is so soft that you can’t pass it up. Diet or no diet, you must have that deep dish pizza. Before you know it, you’ve devoured the entire thing. Oh, but it was so good. But then, IT happens—the guilt settles in. Oh no, did you really just eat the entire pizza? No worries, you’re working out later. In fact, you must work out later. No excuses.
Whether “later” actually happens is irrelevant; life’s “guilty pleasures” always seem to come with a special tagline.
That’s why the Royal Society for Public Health, a UK-based organization of healthcare professionals, is advocating for food labels to include exercise “equivalents,” or PACE (physical activity calorie equivalents) labels, which are food labels that outline specifically the type of exercise and how many minutes consumers would have to engage in to expend the calories in the specified food item.
For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Elk Grove Village, Ill., conducted a nationwide survey of 1,000 parents randomized to 1 of 4 fast food menus. Respondents were asked to imagine they were in a fast food restaurant and place an order for their child. At the survey’s conclusion, all respondents were shown a calorie-only label and both PACE labels, then asked to rate the likelihood each label would influence them to encourage their child to exercise.
According to AAP’s results, parents whose menus displayed no label ordered an average of 1,294 calories, whereas those shown calories only, calories plus minutes or calories plus miles ordered 1,066, 1,060 and 1,099 calories, respectively. Only 20% of parents reported that calories-only labeling would “very likely” encourage their children to exercise vs. 38% for calories plus minutes and 37% for calories plus miles.
“PACE labeling may influence parents’ decisions on what fast food items to order for their children and encourage them to get their children to exercise,” say the authors of the AAP study, “Potential Effect of Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent Labeling on Parent Fast Food Decisions.”
But, does the PACE label really motive people to exercise?
“It is a nice idea in theory because some people have said it made them feel motivated when making choices,” says Sara Haas, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chicago, “but, if you see that you would have to run 5 miles to expend the calories in a [pint of ice cream], it gives you a pass.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Md., is currently working to redesign labels on packaged foods to make them more user-friendly and better highlight the level of components that consumers should avoid.
“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,” wrote Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, in an opinion article.
So, next time you’re about to plow through that deep dish pizza, imagine what the exercise routine necessary to burn it off would be like. Or, just throw out the box immediately and pretend it never happened.