While we may shrug off the number of calories in a soda, apparently we’re more likely to drop the pop if we know how long of a workout it will take us to burn it off. A new study suggests that adding “exercise labels,” or “physical activity equivalents,” to the packaging of unhealthy foods could prevent us from consuming them too frequently.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health posted three different signs outside four corner stores in low-income Baltimore neighborhoods and collected data for 1,600 beverage sales by black adolescents ages 12 to 18 years. The first sign stated that the average can of soda contains 250 calories; the second asked if consumers knew that the drink contained 10% of their recommended daily calorie intake; and the third explained that it would take 50 minutes of running to burn off a single soda’s sugar and calorie content.
The first two signs caused soda sales to drop by 40%, but the physical activity equivalent resulted in 50% fewer sales. “Providing easily understandable caloric information — particularly in the form of a physical activity equivalent, such as running — may reduce calorie intake from sugar-sweetened beverages and increase water consumption among adolescents,” said John Hopkins’ Sara Bleich.
Our first reaction to this research: Wonderful! If that works so well, let’s put it on labels for soda, Hot Pockets, potato chips, etc. While we’d rather not know how many marathons we’d have to run to work off that Ben & Jerry’s, it appears to be an effective way to communicate the impact those calories really have to those who are less aware of it.
Our second reaction: Wait a minute! Would it really take a 130-lb. person the same amount of running time to burn off a soda as it would take a 230-lb. person? The answer is no. The heavier person would probably work off more calories, but our guess is that the researchers based their calculations on an average weight.
The fizzy facts remain that sodas are high in calories, and many consumers don’t realize how much they’re eating or drinking even when they see the calorie information. A 2010 survey found that 63% of people can’t estimate the number of calories they should be consuming in a day to maintain their current weight, and 25% won’t even venture a guess. A physical activity equivalent can promote a better understanding of calories by providing a more simplistic form of measurement.