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.