Space & Innovation

Exercise Cost vs. Calories Debated for Labels

Calorie counts often serve only to confuse consumers. Is there a better way?

When browsing through grocery store aisles, many shoppers often read the labels of the foods they choose before tossing them into their carts. A survey by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 2010 found that 54 percent of Americans read the label the first time they buy a new product.

Calorie counts are at the top of every nutrition label, but those numbers don't really mean a lot to many consumers. That's why a new article published in The BMJ advocates supplementing nutrition facts with "activity equivalents," or a snapshot of how much exercise it would take to burn an equal amount of calories contained in food.

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Using these activity equivalents gives consumers a direct link between their food and exercise, according to Shirley Cramer, chief executive at the Royal Society of Public Health in the United Kingdom. "The aim is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, to encourage them to be more physically active," Cramer writes.

Let's consider how this would work in practice.

In the United States, the average woman weighs around 166 pounds (75 kilograms), and the average man is around 196 pounds (89 kilograms), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The typical 12-ounce can of soda contains about 138 calories. That would take the average American man about half an hour to burn off on a walk, and the average woman would need to keep it up another 5 minutes to cancel out the can.

Why Does a Third of the World's Food Go Uneaten?

Jogging at a 6 mile-per-hour pace could shortens that time to 11 minutes for average women in the U.S. and 9 minutes for men. Calorie expenditure shifts with exercise length and activity as well as with the weight of the individual engaged in physical activity.

Given the confusion around nutrition labels, the proposed plan could mean better-informed consumers. According to a 2012 survey by Nielsen of over 25,000 food shoppers, 59 percent of respondents around the world reported struggling to understand the information in nutrition labels. Forty-one percent "mostly" understand the contents of the labels, suggesting room for improvement.

Measures such as improved food labeling could help put a dent in the worldwide obesity epidemic. The number of obese people worldwide now exceeds the ranks of those who are underweight, according to a study published last week in The Lancet.

Video: When Does Food Really Expire?

In 1975, 105 million people were obese, and that figure ballooned to 641 million in 2014. The proportion of obese men has more than tripled and more than doubled for obese women. The total number of underweight individuals was cut by around a third for both genders.

Nearly a fifth of the world's obese adults, 118 million, and more than a quarter of severely obese individuals, 50 million, live in just six high-income nations: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the United States, more than a third of adults, or 78.6 million Americans, are obese.

Obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and certain kinds of cancers, are some of the leading causes of preventable death, according to the CDC.

Ink seems so retro now that machines can custom-print myriad 3-D objects, including snacks. Here are some of the most impressive edibles to emerge from 3-D printers so far.

Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab

is at the forefront of 3-D printed food. The lab’s Fab@Home project led by PhD candidate Jeffrey Ian Lipton uses solid freeform fabrication to print interesting snacks. Lab researchers worked with the French Culinary Institute to print this space shuttle from cheese.

3-D Printing Is Getting Ready to Explode

Printing with chocolate is a no-brainer given its consistency but what used to be a novelty has started going mainstream. Chocolate companies are using 3-D printing tech in new ways, like this


printed for Nestlé and Android KitKat’s



Using food like ink can be much trickier than generating a mold from 3-D tech. Several years ago

Windell Oskay

and his team at

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories

custom-built a 3-D fabricator that fused sugar together into sculptures. More recently 3D Systems released the ChefJet printer to produce confections and cake-toppers.

One day the pizza question could be, Fresh, frozen or printed? The Barcelona-based startup Natural Machines printed fresh pizzas using a 3-D machine prototype called Foodini in 2013. At the same time, NASA gave a grant to the Systems and Materials Research Corporation in Austin to develop pizza-printing capabilities for space.

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The crew at Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab did print thick cookies containing the letter C but German designer

Ralf Holleis

produced fewer crumbs. He collaborated with a professor at the University of Applied Sciences Coburg to print

holiday cookies

from red and green colored dough.

Printed meat doesn’t sound all that appetizing but that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying. The startup

Modern Meadow

is working on developing humane, bioprinted meat while

Natural Machines

used their Foodini to create real swirled hamburgers -- as well as the buns and cheese to go on top.

These chips might look like ramen noodles but researchers at the Cornell Creative Machines Lab printed them from corn dough. The flower shape allowed for even frying, Fast Company reported. If you want pasta, Natural Machines says its Foodini printer can serve up gnocchi and ravioli.

The Dutch consultancy T

NO Research

envisions using 3-D printing to address world hunger, although some might squirm at their proposals. Their food printer can generate nutrient-rich snacks from alternative ingredients like algae and even mealworms.

If telling kids to eat broccoli because it’s “little trees” doesn’t work, perhaps Natural Machines’ 3-D printed

spinach quiche

will. To tempt picky young eaters, the Spanish startup produced vegetable snacks in the shape of butterflies and dinosaurs using their Foodini printer.