Do you feel like going for a 43-minute jog, followed by a 26-minute walk, and then another 22-minute run?
If your answer is "no" then you probably shouldn't scarf down that pizza, soft drink, and chocolate bar, because that's exactly the amount of exercise you would have to do in order to burn off all of the calories incurred during your short burst of junk food indulgence.
If most people saw their food as future exercise, as opposed to a number calories to be minimized, there is a good chance they would be less inclined to give into temptation. This was the starting point for researchers at the UK's Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) who are trying to find novel approaches to battle Britain's ballooning obesity problem.
In a recent column for the British Medical Journal, RSPH Chief Executive Shirley Cramer said that the UK's current childhood obesity problem is not only urgent, but that current methods of battling it are not proving very effective.
"Little evidence has shown that the current information on food and drink packaging, including 'traffic light' labelling, actually changes behaviour," she wrote. "Packaging should not only provide nutritional information but should also help people to change behaviour."
Citing previous consumer research and basic socio-economic realities, Cramer proposes a method that is easier to understand than a bunch of numbers and percentages. "People find symbols much easier to understand than numerical information, and activity-equivalent calorie labels are easy to understand, particularly for lower socioeconomic groups who often lack nutritional knowledge and health literacy."
Cramer concluded her article with a call for more research and a different understanding of the relationship between exercise and food. "People can't out-run a bad diet," she writes, adding that, "The public is used to being told to avoid particular drinks and to cut down on specific foods. By contrast, activity labelling encourages people to start something, rather than calling for them to stop."
In other words, it might be time to make the assumption that people hate exercise more than they enjoy eating unhealthy food.