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Would you like 2 hours of exercise with that?
April 23rd, 2013
03:03 PM ET

Would you like 2 hours of exercise with that?

You walk into a fast food restaurant and examine the menu. You could get a salad with grilled chicken and dressing on the side. Or you could get a double cheeseburger.

Seeing the calories listed next to each item isn't likely to affect your decision, according to a new study being presented at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting this week. But seeing the amount of time it would take you to work those calories off at the gym just might.

The study

Researchers at Texas Christian University asked 300 men and women aged 18 to 30 years to purchase food from one of three fast food menus. All of the menus contained the same options, including burgers, chicken tenders, salad, French fries and desserts.

One group's menu had no labels of any kind. The second group's menu was labeled with the total calories in each item. The third group's menu was labeled with the number of minutes of brisk walking it would take someone to burn off the calories in the meal.

The results

People who ordered off the activity-labeled menu ordered 139 fewer calories and consumed 97 fewer calories on average than those who ordered off the menu without labels.

There was no significant difference in the number of calories ordered or consumed between the group that ordered off the calorie-labeled menu and the group that saw no labels. There was also no significant difference between the group that ordered off the activity-labeled menu and the group that ordered off the calorie-labeled menu.

Conclusions

If consumers are aware of the number of minutes they'd have to exercise to work off the calories they are eating, they are more likely to order lower-calorie options. Although the difference in the study results was small, "a 100-calorie reduction on a daily basis could lead to some weight loss over the long term," senior researcher Meena Shah said in an e-mail. Shah mentored the study, conducted by graduate student Ashlei James.

Shah stresses that the results of this study need to be verified by other studies with a more diverse group of participants before policy recommendations can be made about restaurant menu labeling.

Takeaway

Do your research before ordering. "Readers should become aware of the amount of exercise it would take to burn the food calories consumed and make appropriate food choices," Shah said. "It would not be feasible for most people to exercise for one to two hours a day in order to burn the calories from a very high-calorie food item."


soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. John

    Something wrong here. A difference between the activity label and the no label. No difference between the no label and the calorie label. And no difference between the activity label and the calorie label. How can that be? Calorie label and no label results are essentially the same, so activity label versus either of them should be the same as both or different from both.

    April 23, 2013 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David

      Statistics.
      No significant statistical difference.Example...
      Group NoLabel: 1100 calories average, with a statistical range of say 900-1300 (Aka standard deviation of 100)
      Group Label: 1000 calories, with a range of 800-1200
      Group Walk: 875 calories, with a range of 775-975 calories

      No statistical difference between NoLabel, and Label, and Label and Walk.
      But when you compare Walk with NoLabel, there is a low statistical possibility that the actual average is say 1000 calories.

      Same thing happens in evolution. Closely related communities can interbreed. Distantly related communities cannot, and therefore are separate species.

      April 23, 2013 at 18:24 | Report abuse |
    • sodesoky

      Just goes to show that people don't understand calories, or it's too confusing to figure out for most of them.

      May 4, 2013 at 11:04 | Report abuse |
  2. John

    So there are three menus, no labels (1), calorie labels (2) and activity labels (3). There is a significant difference between 1 and 3, but no significant difference between 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. How is that mathematically possible?

    April 23, 2013 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      I'm guessing that 1 consumed a statistically insignificant higher calorie count than 2, and 2 consumed a statistically insignificant higher amount than 3. But adding those two insignificant amounts together equals the 100 calorie difference.

      But really...should we have to guess? The article is poorly written.

      April 23, 2013 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      Take a statistics class.

      April 24, 2013 at 08:22 | Report abuse |
    • Anderson

      Technically, they shouldn't be reporting these results like this – however with such a small number of "groups" the chance of coming to spurious conclusions isn't that great. However this is no different than someone looking at reading scores for Whites, Blacks and Hispanics and then doing pairwise comparisons of each group.

      April 24, 2013 at 08:46 | Report abuse |
    • Luke

      I didn't understand that either. And a Statistics class won't help in understanding a contradiction such as this.

      May 15, 2013 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
    • Bladnishnov Guru

      I don't know! I was thinking the same thing thats weird!

      May 28, 2013 at 20:13 | Report abuse |
  3. dojodestroyer

    This assumes that you want to burn all the calories you have taken in. Your body needs a certain amount of calories daily to function. People could still choose high calorie food items and adjust their breakfast and/or dinner accordingly.

    April 23, 2013 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pete

      Yes because we all know America's problem is burning too many calories... Chances are, if you are eating at a burger joint, you're going to go over your daily allotted 2000 calories. Don't give any BS about how you need so many calories either. A 200 lb 6 foot 2 guy only has a BMR of 2068 calories. If you're a desk jockey, you're gonna gain weight if you eat much more than this in a day. Sometimes just a burger, fries, and a drink can put you over that daily limit and people are then amazed that they gain weight.

      April 25, 2013 at 02:37 | Report abuse |
  4. You Do need calories

    Maybe this method works but even if you do not move during the day, you still need some calories. I wonder if the exercise list took into account that you burn calories doing nothing more energetic than sitting.

    April 23, 2013 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lost weight by paing attention

      You're right, you do need some calories each day. But do you know how many, based upon your activity level? Most people over-consume because they think themselves more active than they really are. Try an accurate measuring device, and you'd be surprised how much you still might need to adjust your eating- or exercising- habits.
      I lost 10 stubborn pounds after I got a FitBit, and I don't even really track my calories very closely. My husband lost 35 lbs by combining it with a food diary on MyFitnessPal. He is very aware of every bite that goes in his mouth, including how much he is "allowed" for his basal metabolism.

      April 24, 2013 at 08:16 | Report abuse |
  5. Judymossman

    Yes this article is poorly written.. to me it made no sense at all. No details at all

    April 23, 2013 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ryan

    This could end up being beneficial throughout the nation. As you know our country is the heaviest it has ever been. New studies are finding that people under the age of 23 are not going to live as long as their parents do. A lot of it is the sedentary lifestyle of American culture and the other part is the way we eat. If we could find a way to relate exercise to a fast food menu, I believe that people would order healthier choices. Fast food restaurants might start offering healthier options if business has gone down because of it.

    April 23, 2013 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Valerie

      I am not trying to be an alarmist but that is the way the government wants it. They do not want anyone living past working age. Only taxpayers matter. TRUTH.

      April 24, 2013 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin N

    I think that this is an awesome study and a fantastic idea. As a soon to be P.E teacher I hear so many people talking about how they exercise so much but aren't seeing a difference in weight or muscle however, what so many people don't realize is that they need to change their diet around to eat smarter by consuming less calories. But to the general public, what are calories? Everyone can see the numbers next to the item that they want to buy but do they even know how many calories they need/want to intake per day? Or even translate that to how long they need to exercise in order to burn it off? Most likely not which is why this is such a great study and can really put a nice kick start in helping our nation with our obesity epidemic at this time. Although the numbers were on a smaller scale for this study I am certain that if this were to take place everywhere the numbers would highly favor the activity labeled menu and positively affect everyone participating.

    April 23, 2013 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Valerie

      That's because idiots think that walking on a treadmill is "doing something". You don't change your body unless you REALLY PUSH it consistently for a LONG TIME.

      April 24, 2013 at 12:27 | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      I was one of those guys trying to lose weight solely by going to the gym trying to work off those college pounds back in the day. Took a few struggling years to figure out that weight loss is mostly diet. Once I changed my eating habits it only took 6 months to lose all my college weight and more. I'm 50 pounds lighter and back to my high school weight. I have almost as much energy as I did in high school as well.

      April 25, 2013 at 02:46 | Report abuse |
  8. celisti

    i check calories on menu whenever possible, and choose my foods accordingly. it does make huge difference, at least to health conscious people. but then again, i am eating healthy and don't eat meat anymore and rarely eat any junk foods.

    April 23, 2013 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. GBfromOhio

    Interesting metric, could be useful. Not sure why so many people are struggling with the fact that the amount of activity required to counteract a meal invoked more of an emotional response and change in behavior than just the calories figure alone. Then again, many people seem to "major in minors".

    April 24, 2013 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Kanageloa

    I wonder how fast food joints will go for people ordering less food and the store makes less profit? I guess we'll have to write and pass more laws.

    April 24, 2013 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Natalie B

    I think this is a wonderful study and something that people need to learn more about. As a future Physical Education teacher, I will want to teach my students to be aware of what they are eating. It is interesting to see that people are less likely to eat something if it shows how much extra exercise you will have to do but will eat the food if it shows how many calories the item is. This tells me that some people may not know enough about calories and the effects they can have on your body. In my future Physical Education classes, I want to teach my students everything they need to know about how to eat right and exercise. I can teach them how to calculate calories into how much exercise they need to do to burn that food item off, similarly to what they are doing in this study. I think this is a wonderful study and a great article for people to read. This also gives us great information as to how we can reduce the obesity epidemic. I wonder if fast food places will start putting how much exercise is needed to burn off the item instead of just stating calories...?

    April 24, 2013 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ab

    As others have sort of alluded to, the big question is "what is the difference between the calories you need from this meal and the calories you consume?". If you walk in the door with a 600 calorie deficit for the day (you have burned 600 more than consumed) you can have that cheeseburger as long as it will be reasonable amount of time before you eat like that again.

    April 24, 2013 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dragonscoutinperu

      So your qestion comes down to what is the difference between wholesome and empty calories if you're still 600Cal in the red? This is issue is how much of the food you comsume can be converted to lean/bulk muscle at the end of the say. When you look at food we only see the chicken or beef that is in it, for example, but what we often miss are the other things that come with that meat. Look at a barbaque chicken sandwich with letus, tomato, and onion, on a bun. We see the vegetables and the chicken which is 'healthier' that the cheese burger. BUT! what we don't see is the large amounts of sugar that can be found in BBQ sause, the letus is actually iceberg w/o any nutritional value but a little fiber, the tomatoes have been sprayed with a perservative because they were sliced 3 weeks ago and so on and so forth. These empty calories and 'extras' gum up the works in your body. They are harder to digest and therefore harder to breakdown into muscle protien and suscuently get converted to fat with high sodium.

      This contrasts with a lean ground beef that made a hamberger which is high in iron and protein, a high fiber whole grain bun, and so on and so forth. So the issue isn't are you getting enough calories, if you're from a develop nation and have acceess, but if you are getting the right foods to convert to good fuel for your body. You wouldn't put unleaded in a high end sports car would you? so why do that to your body. Simply put all food/calories are not made the same.

      June 14, 2013 at 06:49 | Report abuse |
  13. 321GO

    Most eating this food do not have a workout regiment. 2 hrs of working out doesnt sound bad if you have no idea what 20 minutes of workout even feels like......most of these folks will go through the drive through cause they dont feel like walking in.

    April 24, 2013 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pete

      Its true. Also two hours at the gym wandering around doing bicept curls and random weight machines every 5-10 isn't really exercising. We all see that big guy in the gym. 70 pounds overweight and thinking he's hot stuff and in shape because he can leg press 400 pounds on a machine. Weight training is important, but if you don't mix in cardio, you're not doing yourself any favors and likely won't lose weight.

      April 25, 2013 at 02:59 | Report abuse |
  14. mickinmd

    I'm 6'3" and 273 lbs and my mountain bicycle, accessories, and I are 313 lbs. My GPS athletic watch (Garmin Forerunner 305) says I burn up about 900 calories per hour of cycling around 9 miles/hr. The 10.6 mile paved bike trail loop around BWI airport SW of Baltimore is good for about 1000 Calories. I think the calculation is a little high, but even if it's 750 Calories, it's worthwhile. From May-October, I don't allow myself to get fast food unless I've gone for a 6-25 mile bike ride. Also, I keep myself under 2000 Calories per day, counting it on sparkpeople.com (myfitnesspal.com is another, free, excellent user-friendly site), allowing myself to pig out on bicycle days or once per week max during near-constant cold or wet weather. I went from 307 lbs to 269 over a year, had a health problem that took me from cycling and I went back up to 297, and am back down to 273 and expect to be at least down to the 250's by the holidays.

    April 24, 2013 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dragonscoutinperu

      I would have a few concerns about your binge and purge of calories. While yes you are getting a good work out you need to think of other factors beside calories before you binge on fast food. Most Fast food is EXTREMELY high in sodium, perservatives, and other 'junk' products. The sodium can contribute to High blood pressure (which can be very dangerous while doing intense CV workouts like cycling), heart disease, and high cholestrol. After a good work out you need to be refueling with lean meats and healthy foods. Right now it's like you're trying to build a luxery home with parts from walmart and the scrap yard.

      I'm a Nursing student and Fitness Center Aid

      June 14, 2013 at 06:38 | Report abuse |
  15. ludvig

    Not a good idea. This will be as accurate as those exercise machines that do not ask how much you weigh. Calories burnt are proportional to your weight. If they don't know that the machines are and the menus will be giving you false numbers. Keep the calorie count. I know what that means as I'm an engineer.

    April 25, 2013 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Pete

    Calorie counts have worked well to for, but I'm a math guy. After seeing that weird look other people get when they try to do math, exercise minutes/hours would be a great way to relate to the average Joe just how much work its going to take to maintain what they are eating. 2 hours at the gym sounds more daunting to people than ~950 calories when most people struggle to make it past 30 minutes at the gym. Its a tangible concept everyone can understand.

    April 25, 2013 at 02:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Auntie Sam

    When I read the label on a can of soda, I think, "Oh, 150 calories, no big deal." But when I'm sweating on a elliptical or rowing machine and it takes me 25 minutes to burn off 150 calories, one can of pop all of a sudden is a really big deal. That one moment was the last time I drank a Coke!

    April 26, 2013 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 29, 2013 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. PT

    Calories, calories, calories. YES, we know there is a certain amount of calories needed just for your organs to function and intake is based off activity level, but have any of you bothered to consider, that while yes we need to determine the appropriate amount of caloric intake daily, have you bothered to take in to consideration that its not so much the calories as it is the amount of fat in the items being chosen. Sure you can gain weight if you over eat anything and sit on your rear doing nothing, but it will take far longer to gain weight with healthy food items (i.e. veggies, lean meats, fruits) then with the crap served at fast food restaurants. And calories burned varies from person to person for the same activity, you have to take into consideration your weight and height as well. Its math, not statistics that will enable you to figure out what you'll burn by eating those hot wings and fries (though that sounds pretty good right about now with a beer). This subject is always up in the air, the only thing that makes people fat, is themselves. You control the fork in your hand, not the other way around.

    May 3, 2013 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. hender1123

    Treadmills should be calibrated in french fried burned. Or ounces of salad dressing. Cheese burgers would be good. Calories burned is too complicated.

    May 21, 2013 at 06:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Clean eating, weight-lifting lady

    This is simple. There are three ways to get weight under control. They're free and none require extreme behavior:
    1. You can't outrun a bad diet. It's way easier to decline calorie and fat-rich/nutrient poor food than it is to work it off in the gym. It's like money. It's easier to save, than it is to spend and re-earn what you spent.

    2. Don't eat less food; eat better food. I eat all day long: fruits, veg, lean protein, periodic treats. (Periodic, as in once a week.)

    3. Move every day, however you want for 30 minutes. Pressuring yourself to hit the gym and do workouts you hate only sabotage your chances of success. Walk at the mall, weed the garden, march in place while you watch TV. Reasonable, achievable activity is way more sustainable than punishing yourself for not doing something you don't enjoy.

    Do one and you'll see results. Do two, even better. Do three and you'll change your life and never go back to your old habits! Good luck!

    June 21, 2013 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nxpunk

      Excellent advice. So many people make the mistake of eating less. Just eat better. :)

      July 22, 2013 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
  22. Nxpunk

    Here is a tip that has worked for me. Don't eat fast food and only drink water on a constant basis, along with a protien shake before and after your workout. I keep my meals simple. Try eating like a cave man.

    July 22, 2013 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply

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