Adding Exercise Requirements To Menus Reduces Calorie Consumption
April 24, 2013

Study: Exercise Info On Menus More Beneficial Than Calorie Count

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

What if a fast food restaurant told you it would take two hours of brisk walking to burn off one of their quarter-pound, double cheeseburgers?

According to a new study from researchers at Texas Christian University, if diners were told how much exercise is required to burn off calories from menu items — they would tend to order less. The study also found providing nutritional information on menus does not necessarily lead to increased sales of healthier offerings.

The use of a so-called ℠exercise menu´ represents a new approach to curbing calorie intake after previous studies have shown providing calorie content does not lead to fewer calories ordered or consumed.

"We need a more effective strategy to encourage people to order and consume fewer calories from restaurant menus," said study researcher Meena Shah, an associate professor of kinesiology at TCU.

"Brisk walking is something nearly everyone can relate to, which is why we displayed on the menu the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories," said TCU graduate student Ashlei James, who also worked on the study.

Both researchers presented their findings at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston this week.

In the study, one-third of the study´s 300 participants, who were between the ages of 18 and 30, received a typical casual dining menu with no additional calorie or health information. Another third got a menu with the calorie count of each food item prominently displayed. The final 100 participants were given menus that listed an estimated number of minutes of brisk walking it would take to burn off each particular food item.

"All menus contained the same food and beverage options, which included burgers, chicken sandwiches/tenders, salads, fries, desserts, soda, and water,” James said.

The results showed both the calorie-count group and the conventional menu group ordered the same average amount of calories, which is consistent with previous studies. However, the group that was given the exercise menu ordered significantly less.

"This study suggests there are benefits to displaying exercise minutes to a group of young men and women," Shah said. “We can't generalize to a population over age 30, so we will further investigate this in an older and more diverse group.

"This is the first study to look at the effects of displaying minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories on the calories ordered and consumed,” she added.

The TCU study results mirror those from a December 2011 study on soft drinks that found when participants were shown how much exercise is needed to work off a particular beverage, they chose a lower-calorie drink instead.

In response to news of the study, Tam Fry, a spokesperson from the UK´s National Obesity Forum, told the Daily Mail calorie counts alone are too abstract of a concept to cause people to change their eating habits.

“People have no conception whatsoever of a calorie but they really do know what an hour´s walk is,” he said. “And if it takes an hour to burn off three chocolate biscuits, they will put the two together.”