A number of studies have examined how front-of-package (FOP) information and menu labeling can influence the purchasing decisions we make in different settings and circumstances (in a grocery store, at a restaurant, standing in front of a vending machine). The underlying assumption is that ‘knowledge is power’; people will make informed, rational decisions at the point-of-purchase and make healthy food choices. While this might work for some people, some of the time, in some settings, this only represents part of the story….not to mention that most people don’t make food purchasing and eating decisions in the absence of emotion.
Given the limited impact FOP has had on purchasing decisions for most people, researchers, public health professionals, and policy makers are interested in amplifying the impact of calorie labeling by complementing it with information about physical activity and energy expenditure. A recent commentary in the BMJ endorsed including information on labels about how much physical activity or exercise is required to burn the energy contained in the food. Some evidence suggests that parents make lower calorie fast food choices if information if activity minutes or steps needed to burn off the calories in the food are provided.
While more data are needed to inform the impact that ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’ information can have on individuals’ and families’ food purchases, there’s a public health imperative to help consumers make healthier food choices more often. Hopefully, science can catch up with policy.