Which might make you think twice about scarfing down holiday treats this season - knowing the actual calorie count (e.g., 320 calories in 2 sugar cookies); knowing the calorie count as a percentage of total daily intake (e.g., 16% of your daily calories in 2 sugar cookies); or knowing how long you have to exercise to burn off the calories (e.g., 44 minutes of brisk walking to burn off 2 sugar cookies)?
Results from a recent study show that while providing any calorie information reduced the odds of purchasing an unhealthy item, providing the physical activity equivalent was the most effective in reducing calories in purchases.1 Their study was conducted in 4 corner stores in a low-income neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. They randomly posted 1 of 3 signs (absolute calorie count, percentage of total recommended daily intake, and physical activity equivalent) next to sugar-sweetened beverages. They then observed beverage-purchasing habits of adolescents before and after the signs went up. Odds of sugar-sweetened beverage purchases were significantly reduced with providing any calorie information relative to no signs; but when the 3 conditions were compared, the only condition that was significant in changing purchasing behaviors was providing the exercise equivalents of the various beverages.
More studies with diverse populations (ages, income levels, geographical locations) are needed, but the study authors suggest that if the same results are found, providing exercise equivalents on food/beverage labels may be an effective strategy for promoting healthy choices.
Want to know how much exercise it takes to burn off your favorite holiday treats? Read this previous blog:
Knowing that it'll take 57 minutes of brisk walking to burn off a piece of fruit cake will help me say "no, thank you!"
1Bleich, S. N., Herring, B. J., & Flagg, D. D. (2011). Reduction in purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages among low-income black adolescents after exposure to caloric information. American Journal of Public Health, doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300350.