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Menus That Inform Consumers How Far They'd Have To Walk To Burn Off Meal May Be More Effective Than Calorie Counts

Apr 24, 2013 04:36 PM EDT

Calorie counts on menus are more and more commonplace, but studies haven't shown that the numbers are making much of a difference.

For this reason, Dr. Meena Shah and Ashlei James from Texas Christian University decided to try a different approach: replacing calorie counts with the number of minutes one would have to walk briskly in order to burn off the food item.

The researchers said they chose brisk walking because its an exercise most people can do and fit into their schedule. 

"We did the study specifically in younger adults," Shah told Times Magazine. "The reason why we chose young adults is because they exercise more than older adults and we felt that they would relate to it more than older adults."

In all, the study included 300 men and women ages 18 to 30 who were then randomly assigned to order lunch from one of three menus. One menu was calorie-free, another included the calorie counts and the last one included the new measurement - minutes of walking.

Common on all the menus, however, were the food items, which included burgers, chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, salad, fries desserts, soda and water.

Sure enough, those with the menus with the minutes of needed to work off their food ordered fewer calories compared to those with the menu without calorie labels.

Furthermore, as seen in the past, there was no difference in the number of calories ordered between those with the menus with the calories listed and those without.

The key, Shah told Time, is putting it into context.

"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," she said. "This may then help them make more appropriate food choices."

The research was presented at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting.

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