Re-interpreting calorie counts using activity labels

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Child drinking unhealthy bottled sodaThe attack on sugary sweetened beverages is back, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has voiced his support for limiting the size of sugary drinks. Although de Blasio has not yet decided how he is going to approach this goal, according to his spokesman, Phil Walzak, The administration is currently considering plans on the best way to reach that goal. Well, if it s the excess calorie consumption that the administration is really worried about, which is a result of calories consumed as a whole, not only calories consumed from sugary beverages, a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health may have some answers. Although the study focuses on soda, the findings concern overall calorie consumption.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University collected data on over 3000 drink purchases of children ages 7 to 18 from stores in low-income Baltimore neighborhoods. Initially, 98 percent of the beverages purchased by the kids were defined as sugary drinks. Researchers then displayed signs in those stores with calorie information. Some of the signs also had useful statistics such as how long it would take a child to burn off the calories in that drink. After this intervention, sugary drinks accounted for only 89 percent of the drinks purchased by children at these stores.

Studies that have looked at the effect of calorie labeling on consumer s choices have found that calorie labeling has little influence on consumer choice. Yet, another study conducted last year by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that menus that included calorie counts as well as miles needed to burn off those calories had the largest effect on meal choice.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky had this to add: Sugary beverages are widely attacked as being the cause of the obesity epidemic, and we have a lot to say about that. However, this current study may be useful in suggesting an overall approach to motivate people to consume fewer calories as a whole. The fact is that many people do not know how to interpret calorie labels because they do not know how many calories they are supposed to be consuming. By using numbers that people can relate to the number of miles or minutes needed to burn off a meal we may be able to influence them to make healthier choices, and thus reduce their calorie consumption.