Finding the calorie count on fast food and restaurant menus is easier now than ever before. But what if the menu also included the time it takes to burn those calories?
Including the time it takes to walk off the calories on food menus may cut the calories ordered and consumed by adults, according to a study presented at a conference.
The researchers said there are benefits to showing how long it takes to burn the calories.
Ashlei James, graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and colleagues aimed to see how showing the time it takes to burn calories of different food items impacted what individuals actually ordered from the menu and consumed.
The study included 300 adults between 18 and 30 years old who were randomly assigned to one of three different menus containing the same food and drink options, including burgers, chicken sandwiches, salad, fries, soda and water.
One menu included the calorie labels, a second excluded calorie labels and the third menu included exercise labels stating how many minutes of brisk walking was needed to burn the calories in each food and drink item.
Participants reported their hunger levels before eating and were not informed of the purpose of the study.
Fewer calories were ordered and consumed by those who had the exercise label menu compared to the menu without calorie labels, researchers found.
The exercise label group ordered food containing 763 calories on average while the no-calorie label group ordered food with 902 calories. The calorie label group ordered food with 827 calories on average.
Researchers said the experiment was eye-opening for the participants.
"For example, a female would have to walk briskly for approximately two hours to burn the calories in a quarter-pound double cheeseburger," said study co-author Meena Shah, PhD, professor in the kinesiology department at Texas Christian University.
"This study suggests there are benefits to displaying exercise minutes to a group of young men and women," Dr. Shah said.
The number of calories ordered and consumed by the no-label and calorie label groups was about the same.
Future research will look further into how food labels affect populations over age 30 and in a more diverse group, the researchers said.
"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," the researchers said.
The researchers also found no difference in calorie intake by menu type after lunch.
The study, which was supported by Texas Christian University, was presented April 23 at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston. All research is considered preliminary before being published in a peer-reviewed journal.