Exercise Labels More Effective Than Calorie Counts On Soda Cans
December 16, 2011

Exercise Labels More Effective Than Calorie Counts On Soda Cans

Researchers attempting to find methods to keep teens from reaching for sugary sodas averaging 250 calories each, posted three different kinds of signs outside convenience stores recently. The most effective at dissuading the kids stated how many hours of exercise would be necessary to burn off the calories of those drinks.

A 250-calorie soda would require roughly 40 minutes of jogging to burn off, stated the signage. This and similar facts were largely unknown to teens and while all the signs contributed to lower numbers of purchases for the beverages, the conversion to exercise minutes was the most effective.

“In general, people are very bad at estimating the amount of calories in food they consume,” study researcher Sara Bleich, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Joseph Brownstein of My Health News Daily via MSNBC. “If we give them easy ways of examining it“¦I think we can be effective in reducing calories in purchases.”

Researchers observed teenagers at participating stores near school campuses and monitored how their beverage-purchasing habits changed compared with the period before the signs went up, Brownstein reported.

An average of 93 sodas per day were purchased in each store and this number declined slightly when the signs went up. Soda sales, which made up almost half of all purchases, dipped slightly, as did those of iced tea and sports drinks.

Sales of non-sugary beverages increased, especially sales of water, which went from 5 to 10 drinks sold daily, on average. Only the signs displaying exercise times had results strong enough to mean researchers knew the decrease in purchases could not be due to simple chance.

Further studies are ongoing but if the results hold, the study may have a wider-reaching impact. “It was a very interesting study, and I think most Americans would be floored to learn it takes 50 minutes to burn off one 20-ounce bottle of soda, basically a nutritionally worthless beverage,” Julie Greenstein, deputy director of health promotion policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health and nutrition advocacy group, told Brownstein.

“I think there´d have to be some further studies on that to see if there would be an impact,” Greenstein said. “If it does have an impact, the federal government should consider this on a broader scale. Sometimes other messages are more beneficial to reducing consumption. I think it makes sense to focus on sugary drinks, since they are the largest single source of calories.”

Bleich said that was one reason the study focused on beverages and teens. Calorie counts are being mandated in some restaurant chains coming next year and it is important to find a way to convey that information in a way the consumer understands.

“My sense would be if you did this sort of study in a group of people for whom nutrition or fitness might be more important, you might have a bigger effect,” Bleich concluded. “If you´re more interested in changing your behavior, you´re more likely to pay attention to this sort of information.”

The results are featured in a recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health.


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