The last thing you want to see when you’re standing in line (or more likely sitting in the drive-thru) waiting to order lunch on the go is the number of calories you’re about to devour. It takes some of the fun out of splurging on “just this one” meal when you see the calories on the menu. Although calorie counts were added to menus to help consumers make healthy choices, they’ve had little impact. Studies have shown that the total number of calories ordered and eaten barely differs when calorie information is provided versus when it’s not. But there is one thing may help you order less: knowing how many miles you’ll have to walk to burn that burger and fries off.
A recent study at Texas Christian University compared posting calorie counts to posting the number of minutes you would need to walk briskly to burn the number of calories for each menu item. The hope is that people can better relate to an amount of exercise versus an amount of calories and therefore make better decisions when it comes to food. The researchers compared menus with no labels, menus with food calorie counts, and menus with minutes of exercise required. The group that was given the menus with the exercise times ordered and consumed fewer calories than the other groups. There was no difference in calories ordered between the menus with no calories and those with calories listed. Apparently knowing that you’ll have to trade in two hours on the treadmill for eating a double cheeseburger is much more motivating than knowing it contains 400 some calories.
Another study took it one step further and added a fourth category of menus, which labeled the calories in terms of how many miles you would need to walk. That menu resulted in even less food being ordered than the menus with exercise listed in minutes.
This specific study only examined subjects 18 to 30 years old, so more studies will need to be done in order to apply this to the population as a whole, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.