New Tactic: Food Calories = Amount of Exercise Required   Would you eat that piece of pie if you knew you would have to perform a brisk walk of 4.5 miles to burn the associated calories? New research finds displaying such information can lead to fewer calories consumed.

Improving health by enhancing health literacy and motivating healthy behaviors has been an objective of health educators and policymakers for quite some time. But the the escalation of obesity and sedentary behaviors suggest new approaches may be required.

“We need a more effective strategy to encourage people to order and consume fewer calories from restaurant menus,” said Meena Shah, Ph.D., of Texas Christian University, senior researcher of a new study in The FASEB Journal.

“Brisk walking is something nearly everyone can relate to, which is why we displayed on the menu the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories,” said Ashlei James, lead researcher and graduate student.

The study enlisted 300 men and women ages 18-30.

“The group was randomly assigned to a menu without calorie labels, a menu with calorie labels, or a menu with labels for the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn the food calories,” James said. “All menus contained the same food and beverage options, which included burgers, chicken sandwiches/tenders, salad, fries, desserts, soda, and water.”

The results indicate that the menu displaying the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories led to fewer calories ordered and consumed compared with the menu without calorie labels.

Interestingly, there was no difference between the menu with calorie labels and the menu without calorie labels in the number of calories ordered and consumed by the subjects.

“This study suggests there are benefits to displaying exercise minutes to a group of young men and women. We can’t generalize to a population over age 30, so we will further investigate this in an older and more diverse group,” Shah said.

“This is the first study to look at the effects of displaying minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories on the calories ordered and consumed.”

The study was eye-opening for many of the subjects. “For example, a female would have to walk briskly for approximately 2 hours to burn the calories in a quarter-pound double cheeseburger,” said Shah.

Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology