‘Nannying’ calorie labels keep you from eating less, study finds
- The Cambridge University team conducted the ‘largest study in a real world environment’
- Their experiment took place in 10 workplace cafeterias in England in 2021
- A ham and cheese sandwich would take almost two hours of walking to burn
If you knew you would have to walk 20 minutes to burn a cookie, would you think twice about eating a cookie?
Apparently not, a new study shows.
Food packaging labels indicating how much exercise is needed to burn the calories have “little or no impact” on the food people buy in company canteens, research suggests.
A team from the University of Cambridge conducted the ‘largest study in a real world environment’ to look at the impact of labels on food and drink purchases.
Their experiment took place in 10 workplace cafeterias in England over a 12-week period in 2021.
If you knew you would have to walk 20 minutes to burn a cookie, would you think twice about eating a cookie? Apparently not, according to a new study
A team from the University of Cambridge conducted the ‘largest study in a real world environment’ to look at the impact of labels on food and drink purchases. Their experiment took place in 10 workplace cafeterias over a 12-week period in 2021. Some of the menus used in the study
During the study, calorie information and labels showing the caloric equivalent of physical activity (pace) were placed next to some foods and beverages, including hot meals, sandwiches, cold drinks, and desserts.
These labels showed the minutes of walking it would take to burn the calories in the product.
For example, a large battered haddock serving of 1014 calories would take 278 minutes — more than five hours — of walking to burn, a ham and cheese sandwich would require 113 minutes of walking, and a giant chocolate chip cookie would require 71 minutes of walking.
Purchase information was compared with sales data collected before the experiment, when most labels and menus only listed the product name and price.
Analysis found that there was no evidence that including the Pace labels results in an overall change in the number of calories people buy each day.
However, there was some variation between cafeterias, with some reporting a decrease per transaction of 161 calories, five no significant change and one an increase of 69 calories.
Analysis found that there was no evidence that including the Pace labels results in an overall change in the number of calories people buy each day (stock)
First author Dr James Reynolds, of the School of Psychology at Aston University in Birmingham, who conducted the study while at Cambridge, said: ‘While we found that demonstrating the amount of exercise needed to burn calories was little made a difference to the number of calories bought—and, we can assume, eaten and drunk—there was wide variation between cafeterias.
“This suggests that other factors may have influenced the effectiveness of these labels, such as the type of food sold in the cafeteria or the characteristics of those who use them.”
Calories purchased from items not bearing the Pace label did not change and the labels made little difference to cafeteria sales.
Senior author Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, director of the Behavioral and Health Research Unit at Cambridge, said: ‘This is the largest study in a real world setting to look at the impact of Pace labels on food and beverage purchases, involving 250,000 transactions across 10 cafeterias. be examined in the workplace. .
“The findings suggest that, contrary to expectations, Pace labels have little or no impact on the food people buy in cafeterias at work.”
In the UK, adults eat as much as a third of their meals away from home, including in cafeterias at work, and these meals are often much higher in calories.
Since April, calorie labeling has been mandatory on food and drinks served in businesses with at least 250 employees.
Experts have also called for the inclusion of exercise labels on food, with a recent review suggesting they can reduce the amount of calories people buy.
However, only one of the studies included in the review was in a “real world” setting, and some critics described the idea as “nanny state.”
The research is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 servings of different fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Basic meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole grain
• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-grain cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and large baked potato with skin
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks) and choose options with less fat and less sugar
• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which is fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide