New research from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health explains that food labeling could cut about 200 calories from a person's daily average intake.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences Beth Kitchin, Ph.D., RD, recommends consumers should exercise caution when reading these labels.

"I am concerned about putting this kind of information on food packaging," she said. "First of all, the idea that we have to burn off the calories from every food we eat with exercise is just flat out wrong. I understand that the idea is to get people to eat fewer calories, but I don’t think it’s the best way to send that message."

Kitchin says the majority of the calories that we burn in a day is through our basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the energy (calories) we need for basic functioning: breathing, heart beating and organ function.

"In addition to our BMR, we burn more calories just from walking around doing our everyday activities," she said. "So, this idea that we need to go out and burn off that cookie we ate is absurd. Don’t get me wrong, exercise is one of the healthiest things we can do and it can help with weight maintenance. But if you eat a cookie you don’t have to jump on the treadmill to burn it off. That’s the message it’s sending even though the point is to get people to eat fewer calories.”

Kitchin adds that labeling in this way makes food look like the enemy and takes the joy out of eating.

“Oh, so you ate that bag of chips? Now you have to punish yourself by sweating it off,” she says "It’s a horrible mindset for anyone with a tendency towards eating disorders and for everyone else who wants to have a  happy, healthy relationship with food."

"Let me add that while there may be some positives — people choosing lower-calorie foods — researchers really need to study the effects on people with eating disorders," Kitchin says. "Also, this research is still early on and whether it actually reduces obesity is a whole other issue. They only showed that people chose somewhat lower-calorie foods – that does not necessarily translate into lower obesity rates."

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