There has been talk recently of updating food packaging to suggest how much exercise you'd have to do to work that food off. I can only hope that this is simply a proposed change by one or two people that has just managed to work its way into the limelight, because I can't see how any health professional would agree that it was a good or safe idea.
To begin with, it's a simple fact that everyone burns calories at different rates - this is why the calorie-burning tracker on exercise equipment should always be ignored. Calorie burn depends on the amount of lean muscle you have, your fitness level, the intensity at which you're working, your familiarity with the exercise you're doing, whether you have the energy to do it (if you've under-eaten your body will cling on to as much energy as it can in order to get through the rest of the day, ultimately giving you less to complete your exercise and effectively making it lower intensity) and any beginner/advance modifications you've applied, like bigger movements or ankle weights. In short, saying "you need to cycle for 2 hours to work off a single piece of buttered toast and a cup of coffee" is absolutely absurd and highly, highly generalised.
And let's stop to think about that detail, too. Coffee and buttered toast. Breakfast, right? The most important meal of the day. Why? Because your brain and body need it to function for the morning, or until 10 am at which point you may need a snack, in which there is no shame especially if you exercise in the morning or your productivity is dropping. So telling someone that their breakfast needs to be worked off means that not only will they possibly have a smaller breakfast than they should, but they'll also try to work it off rather than put it to the use it should be.
Putting this kind of information on food packages is a really good way to encourage eating disorders and over-exercising. No, not everyone will pay any attention - I know I certainly won't - so people who want to be obese will continue to be so, and people who are concerned about staying in shape will obsess all the more, which means eating disorders may start to affect more people, which means mental health will be affected too. Some people in the middle may well stop and think about what they're eating, and either concede to exercise in order to have what they want, meaning crisps and chocolate bars would still be eaten, or not eat it at all in favour of staying sedentary.
I don't need to be told what I need to do to work off a chocolate bar, or be made to feel guilty for choosing to eat one. I exercise 5 days a week at high intensity, I have a balanced diet with good carbs, fats, proteins and so on. Why the hell should I be made to feel guilty for having a little treat once in a while? I know it's bad for me, I know there are other healthier things I could eat instead, but it's not like I'm going to eat three a day for breakfast, is it?
People think too much about calories rather than what their food actually is, and they take macronutrients like fat at face value and cut them out because they have a bad reputation. News flash: your body needs fat and carbs. Avoiding avocado because it's high in fat is stupid; avoiding wholemeal bread because it's a carb is stupid; avoiding fruit because it's high in sugar is stupid.
All this proposed change would do is harden food myths. It's not going to encourage obese people to eat better or to exercise more - to be honest, nothing will but themselves. They have to want to lose weight and eat better. People still smoked even when they put those horrible pictures on the packages. Sure, some stopped smoking, and some who may have considered starting decided not to. But most of the people who needed to stop the most, didn't.
I really hope, as I said, that this is just a change that was proposed like 2 days ago and has managed to worm its way into the limelight, and that health professionals will be consulted and listened to before anything's given the go-ahead. I can't see how any good that could come of it could ever out-weigh the bad.