xedocatIt sounds like a great set-up for a joke, doesn’t it? But no–here is a serious proposal out there to implement “activity equivalent calorie burning” information on food labels. The intent is good: If someone knows it takes 26 minutes of exercise to burn off a can of soda, they might drink water instead.

But there are problems with the theory. For starters, as one scientist notes, “It seems a daft idea as a significant proportion of caloric intake is used to support basal metabolism i.e. breathing snd staying alive, which is typically between 1200-1500 kcal/d.” I have learned that by looking at my Misfit Shine app: Even if my activity hasn’t synched for the day, the app will show that I have burned 1700 calories by early evening just by being alive.

By that standard, it might be better just to label each food item’s calories as a percentage of a 2000 calorie daily diet, the way we measure vitamins and salt.

But the bigger problem is that words of warning always seem most effective for the people who don’t need them. A stern admonition from the principal will terrify the good kids, while the bad kids always hear it as “that doesn’t mean me.”

So people with food issues are the ones who will be inclined to use the information the wrong way. And there are so many possibilities for that: Drink the soda and exercise for 16 minutes that seem like 26. Opt for the soda rather than something that has more calories total but also comes with some nutritional value. Or add the soda to the day’s calories and work yourself into exhaustion.

And of course for some of us, a calorie isn’t a calorie. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to work off 2000 calories if it’s mostly in the form of carbohydrates.

In short, nice try, labeling people, but the missing link in the food chain still awaits discovery.