How Long To Walk Off That Cookie? Activity Equivalent Food Labeling

how long to walk off that cookie

A health expert in the United Kingdom has suggested one way to help fight overweight and obesity is to provide activity equivalent food labeling. For example, a box of cookies would tell you how long you would need to walk to burn off the calories in one serving.


Does this sound like a crazy idea? Think about it:

  • Say the nutritional panel on a box of chocolate chip cookies states there are 160 calories in 3 cookies
  • You may think, 160 calories isn’t so bad—however:
  • If the panel also noted that a person of average weight and age would need to walk for 52 minutes to burn off those 160 calories, would you think twice about eating the cookies? (The 52 minutes is based on a 120 pound individual walking 3 mph, or 20-minute miles.)

Activity equivalent calorie labeling
According to Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, the Society has suggested that providing activity equivalent calorie labeling on food and beverage products could be a tool in the fight against obesity. Such information may be a way to help people be more mindful about their food choices and encourage them to become more physically active.

The article, which appears in a recent issue of BJM, points out that 53 percent of the surveyed public said they would make positive changes to their behavior if they saw activity equivalent calorie information on products. Among those behaviors were eating smaller portions, engaging in more exercise, or selecting healthier foods or beverages.

This information should be combined with another statistic from the Society, which found that 44 percent of people said they found front-of-package information on foods to be confusing. Since people make food purchasing decisions in an average of six seconds, providing more meaningful and simple information could be helpful.

Another advantage of providing activity equivalent food labeling is that it is empowering; that is, it gives people something they can do that is positive to affect their weight. By contrast, much of the information people hear about weight loss is negative, telling them to stop eating certain foods or to avoid specific categories altogether.


Informing people how much activity they would need to do to burn or use up the calories in their food choices is an innovative tool to help tackle the ever-increasing problem of overweight and obesity. For now, experts will be exploring the potential advantages and disadvantages of such a program.

Calculate your own cookie burning

In the meantime, you might want to think about this idea the next time you pick up a bag of cookies or a pint of ice cream. You can calculate how much time it will take you to burn calories eaten using this calculator. Just put in the calories you plan to consume, choose an activity, plug in your current weight, and it will calculate how much time you will need to spend walking, swimming, etc. to burn off those cookie calories.

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Cramer S. Food should be labelled with the exercise needed to expend its calories. BMJ 2016; 353:i1856

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