The FDF urged more research on the impact of such labels after Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSHP) suggested in an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that packaging should be used to change consumer behaviour.
She argued that giving consumers an immediate link between foods’ energy content and physical activity might reduce obesity.
Traffic light labelling
“Little evidence has shown that the current information on food and drink packaging, including ‘traffic light’ labelling, actually changes behaviour,” wrote Cramer.
“Packaging should not only provide nutritional information but should also help people to change behaviour.”
The RSHP had previously called for the introduction of “activity equivalent” calorie labelling, with symbols showing how many minutes of several different physical activities are equivalent in the calories expended to those in the product. The aim was to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to physical activity.
Food manufacturers are already required to list a range of information on food labels such as ingredients, allergens and origin.
Ingredients, allergens and origin
Food and drink manufacturers supported initiatives designed to encourage physical activity, an FDF spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“Weight gain occurs when more calories are consumed than are burned during physical activity,” he said. “For this reason, initiatives which reinforce the well understood calorie message and encourage people to be more active are to be encouraged.”
The food and drink industry was currently looking at what more it can do to help people understand nutrition information and how this fits within a healthy lifestyle, he added.
“Activity equivalent information is an interesting concept and the role it could play in driving meaningful behaviour change is certainly worth exploring.
“However, we believe further research is needed into whether activity equivalent calorie information could be an effective way of encouraging consumers to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
“EU rules which dictate what companies can and cannot put on their food labels would need to be considered in any proposals to add to on-pack information.”
Meanwhile, food and drink manufacturers and retailers have incurred many millions of pounds of costs in recent years in complying with the EU’s Food Information to Consumers regulation.
Read more about the BMJ report here.
Activity equivalent calorie labelling
“The objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, and to encourage them to be more physically active.”
- Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health