Food menus that list exercise costs could lead to healthier choices
Published Friday, April 26, 2013 11:47AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 26, 2013 2:46PM EDT
If you knew it would take two hours of intensive walking to burn off that dessert tempting you at dinnertime, would you still choose it?
A new study finds that restaurant guests who look at menus that show them an estimate of how much exercise is needed to burn off calories tend to choose lower-calorie options.
Researchers at Texas Christian University recently conducted a study of 300 men and women under the age of 30. They broke them into three groups, giving each group a menu with the same food choices.
One group received a regular menu; the second received a menu that listed the calories of each food item; the third got a menu that listed the calories as well as the number of minutes of brisk walking needed to burn those calories.
The study found that the people who got the third menu not only tended to order less, they also ate less compared to those who got the menu without calorie labels.
Results of the study were presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston.
The researchers say putting calories into context seemed to have an effect on the people they studied.
"This study suggests there are benefits to displaying exercise minutes to a group of young men and women,” senior researcher Dr. Meena Shah said in a statement.
“We can't generalize to a population over age 30, so we will further investigate this in an older and more diverse group," Shah added.
Registered dietician Leslie Beck finds the study results interesting.
“I guess what this suggests is that if you eat out in restaurants on a regular basis, knowing and seeing that (calorie and exercise)information could help you manage your weight,” she told CTV News Channel.
Beck says it’s hard to say why the combination of the calorie and the exercise information made a bigger difference than simply the calorie information. But she suspects that when most people see that something has 500 or 700 calories, they don’t really know what that means.
She says it seems that putting calorie information into a context that most people can relate to – brisk walking – helps to make people think a little harder about their food choices.
“If you were to go to a coffee shop and you saw that that muffin that you were going to have with your coffee would take two hours on a treadmill to burn off, you would probably think that’s hardly worth it for a muffin,” she said,
The researchers say that the majority of studies done of the effectiveness on displaying calories on menus show that the menus do not lead to fewer calories ordered or eaten. They say that contextualizing those calories could be an effective strategy to encourage people to eat less.