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Calorie Counts Ineffective: People Need to See How Long it Takes to Burn off Meals

Update Date: Apr 24, 2013 11:46 AM EDT

In recent attempts to fight obesity, fast food places and restaurants are required to inform their customers of the nutritional values in each food product. Although people can visibly see how many calories they are eating per food option, studies have shown that calorie counts might not be curbing obesity as much as health experts and advocates would like. Previous surveys and research have suggested that the number of calories written next to meals does not faze people. In a new study, researchers from Texas Christian University wanted to examine whether or not other options could influence people to avoid consuming unhealthy food options. The research team, Dr. Meena Shah and Ashlei James, decided to swap calories counts with the length of time needed to exercise the calories off, and they found that this technique might be more effective in dissuading people from eating unhealthy foods.

The research team enlisted the aid of 300 male and female volunteers who were from the ages of 18 to 30. The participants were randomly asked to order lunch from three different menus that all contained the same food options. The first menu had no caloric information, the second listed the calories of each option and the third menu listed the amount of time it would take for the individual to walk off the calories per meal. The researchers decided on brisk walking as the main form of exercise because they believed that walking was the most common and most relatable form of physical activity for all people from all ages. The food options included burgers, chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, salad, fried, desserts, and beverages.

The researchers discovered that the participants who received the menu informing them of the amount of exercise they would need to do to burn off the calories ended up consuming fewer calories when compared to the participants that received the menu with no information at all. The researchers also found that there were no differences in the number of calories consumed between the people who had no information on their menus and the people who only had the caloric counts.

"It could take anywhere from one to two hours of moderate exercise such as brisk walking to burn the calories in some of the energy-dense foods. This may then help them make more appropriate food choices," Shah reasoned. If this method can be more effective in influencing people to consume healthier foods, curbing obesity might be slightly easier.

The study was presented at the Experimental Biology meeting in Boston, MA.  

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