Promoting Healthy Living: Are Exercise Icons On Food The Way Forward?

Promoting Healthy Living is about changing lifestyles

How far should politicians go in promoting healthy living? Some people see it as a central responsibility of the government, others as “nanny state” intrusiveness. This question was raised recently when Shirley Crammer, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, proposed a change to food labelling requirements. At present most products show the number of calories they contain. Ms Crammer suggests that it would be more effective to show Icons on products that tell us how much activity we need to do to lose the calories we have ingested. According to her proposal, labels would show the number of minutes walking or running needed to burn off the number of calories. For example, a standard chocolate bar with 229 calories would require 42 minutes walking or 22 minutes running. A chicken and bacon sandwich with 445 calories would require one hour and 22 minutes walking or 42 minutes running. The logic behind this is clear. We are currently facing an epidemic of obesity and the labelling system would offer clear guidance for balancing food consumption and exercise, the fundamental basis of maintaining a healthy weight. However, healthy living is about more than just calories consumed versus energy used. It is about eating a balanced diet, with fresh ingredients and natural food. It is about having a lifestyle which naturally incorporates exercise and gives us time to prepare and enjoy food. I for one feel that the government has an important role to play in promoting healthy living. However, a labelling system which encourages a simplistic calorie based approach is not the way to do it.

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