Diners confronted with the sweat equivalents of food offerings on a restaurant menu get a good, hard look at what they are in for -- and order a lower-calorie meal -- than do those who see actual calorie counts or no nutritional data at all, new research says.
At Texas Christian University, researchers recruited 300 young adults and offered them each a menu with much of the usual casual dining fare: hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries, salads, desserts, sodas and water.
A third of the participants got a menu that had no calorie counts, and another third got a menu with the calorie counts of individual food items prominently listed. A final third got menus that listed, alongside the food description, an estimated number of minutes of brisk walking it would take an average person to work off each food item.
For all the hope that public health experts have sunk into displaying calorie counts on menus, they were a bit of a bust with this crowd. Participants who got the calorie counts ordered meals that were not significantly less caloric than those who got no information. But those who saw the exercise equivalents of what they would eat chose meals that were on average far lighter in calories.
The researchers, Meena Shah and Ashlei James, presented their results in Boston at the Experimental Biology 2013 conference.
A December 2011 study of teens making choices about which soft drinks to buy had a similar finding -- that when they were shown what it would take to work off a sugar-sweetened beverage, they opted for lower-calorie drinks instead.