Food labelling: Walking off the calories in a battered haddock may take longer than you think. And it's good to know – Scotsman comment

According to a new study, telling people how much exercise they need to carry out in order to burn off the calories in different types of food did not persuade them to adopt a healthier diet.

Fish and chips became a staple in an age when people were more physically active than they are today (Picture: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)
Fish and chips became a staple in an age when people were more physically active than they are today (Picture: Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)

The use of physical activity calorie-equivalent (Pace) labels had been expected to result in a reduction in the amount of energy people consume, providing a useful weapon in the war on obesity.

However, apparently the revelation that a five-hour walk is required to work off a single large portion of battered haddock was not enough to persuade people eating in staff canteens to abandon their usual lunchtime fish and chips for a green salad.

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Professor Theresa Marteau, of Cambridge University, senior author of a scientific paper about the study, said the labels “may have little or no impact on the food people buy in worksite cafeterias”.

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Her use of the word “may” should be noted, and more research in general is required to establish the best ways to encourage people to eat healthily. When so many of us have a poor diet, it is no longer just an individual problem, given the knock-on effects on the NHS and the economy in general.

But information can surely never be a bad thing. It may be that expressing the energy in a deep-fried fish in terms of a long walk does not have a swift effect on our eating habits – the study took place over 12 weeks – but that, eventually, the constant drip of such data could have an impact.

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It is important to prioritise the most cost-effective steps, but anything that increases our knowledge should be welcomed.

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