Workplace cafeteria study finds no evidence that physical activity calorie-equivalent labeling changes food purchasing

An experiment carried out across ten workplace cafeterias found no significant change in the overall number of calories purchased when food and drink labels showed the amount of physical activity required to burn off their calories. 

More than three in five UK adults are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer. A major factor that contributes to this is excess energy intake – in other words, eating too many calories. Measures that can help reduce energy intake could help tackle the obesity problem.

In the UK, adults eat as many as a third of their meals out of home, including in workplace cafeterias, and these meals are often much higher in calories than meals eaten at home. Since April 2022 calorie labeling is now required on food and drink served out of the home in businesses employing 250 or more people. While many people welcome this information, evidence for its effectiveness in reducing calories purchased or consumed is limited in quantity and quality. For example, two previous studies conducted by the authors in nine worksite cafeterias found no evidence for  an effect of simple calorie labeling (kcal) on calories purchased. 

Another option is to show the amount of exercise required to burn off these calories – so-called PACE (physical activity calorie-equivalent) labels – for example, a 1014kcal ‘large battered haddock’ portion would take upwards of five hours walking (278 minutes) to burn off. A recent systematic review – a type of study that brings together existing evidence – concluded that PACE labels may reduce energy selected from menus and decrease the energy consumed when compared with simple calorie labels or no labels, but only one of the 15 studies reviewed was in a ‘real world’ setting.


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3 responses to “Workplace cafeteria study finds no evidence that physical activity calorie-equivalent labeling changes food purchasing

  1. Having the calories of foods does change whether or not I purchase something, but only on very specific occasions. For instance, if I’m looking at getting chicken/steak nachos at Qdoba for lunch, I don’t care what the calorie clicker says. If, however, I’m looking at a snack or additional meal I normally wouldn’t eat, having the calories posted will dissuade me from making a purchase… or even choosing something with less of an impact to my abdomen.


  2. Rock

    First off, hope all is going well so far Tony! Anyway, this study is not surprising as (most) people are just not label readers to begin with. Even the standard nutrition label is barely scanned over if at all. Then they can’t seem to remember the calorie count, or sodium, saturated fat , or what have you, is for a serving size, NOT the whole container. You might as well at least double the numbers on the label per serving because you usually get at least two servings per package, sometimes more! Once, years ago, I purchased a container of deli macaroni salad and didn’t think the 430 mgs of sodium was too bad until I realized that was for a single serving and the package contained FOUR servings! People need to read and convert these labels into serving size . My nutritionist said that is probably the biggest error people make when reading labels, if they bother to read them at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing. One of the first subjects I wrote about back when this was a only weight loss blog was – portion size and serving size. That is a most formidable tool.


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