Should restaurant menus display the exercise needed to burn calories in each item?

Shereen Dindar
Shine On

A new study from the U.S. suggests that adding labels to restaurant menus which state the amount of exercise needed to burn the calories in each food item may be an effective way to encourage people to make healthier food choices.

Current data on the effectiveness of simply labelling calorie counts on menus is unknown and inconclusive. Some studies suggest calorie counts do not reduce the amount of calories people consume, while other studies suggest it might have some impact.

For this reason, the researchers of this new study from Texas Christian University wanted to try a different approach.

"We need a more effective strategy to encourage people to order and consume fewer calories from restaurant menus," says researcher and associate professor of nutrition Meena Shah.

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"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," adds lead researcher and graduate student Ashlei James.

The study -- to be presented Tuesday at the Experimental Biology 2013 conference in Boston -- involved 300 men and women ages 18-30. Participants were randomly assigned to either a menu without calorie labels, a menu with calorie labels, or a menu with labels for the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn the food calories.

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

The results? Participants who looked at the menu displaying the exercise needed to burn food calories ended up ordering and consuming fewer calories than the participants looking at menus with, and without, calorie labels.

Also see: Are fast food meals for kids worse than ever?

An example item from the exercise menu: A quarter-pound double cheeseburger would require a female to walk briskly for approximately 2 hours to burn the calories.

"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," Shah tells CNN.