Researchers Develop Calorie Labels That Actually Make Sense

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The Problem

Does anyone ever truly understand the information given to us on the calorie labels of our food?

Sure, Potassium, Sugar, Sodium, Vitamin D, Calories, Fat, and other measurements are usually indicated, but how do we know how these ingredients actually affect our bodies?

The Solution

A team of Researchers at Johns Hopkins University decided to conduct a study to determine what the results would be if they made calorie labels more blunt. On these new labels, they displayed exactly how much exercise would need to be performed in order to burn off that particular item.

For instance, instead of simply stating that an average 16 oz soda has approximately 52 grams of sugar and contains 250 calories, they featured that it would take 50 minutes of running or 5 miles of walking to burn off that single soda.

“If you’re going to give people calorie information, there’s probably a better way to do it. What our research found is that when you explain calories in an easily understandable way such as how many miles of walking needed to burn them off, you can encourage behavior change,” said lead study researcher Sara N. Bleich, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School.

Through this shift in labeling, they hoped to test how purchasing choices would alter when given information that can more clearly be applied to a consumer’s lifestyle.

The Test Results

They put up brightly colored, 8.5-by-11-inch signs in 6 convenience stores in Baltimore that used this new way of labeling soft drinks and over a 6 week period of time, the amount of teenagers buying sodas decreased and the number of teens purchasing water or instead walking out of the store without buying a beverage increased. Similarly, of those who still continued with their soda purchases, many of them chose to go with a smaller size.

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Although plans in the past have been enacted to try to curb the obesity trend in the United States, many of these, such as mandating chain restaurants to display calorie information, lack the efficiency or accessibility to actually make a difference.

“This is a very low-cost way to get children old enough to make their own purchases to drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and they appear to be effective even after they are removed,” says Bleich.

The difference in this new way of labeling consists in the consumer’s immediate awareness of the effect a particular item will have on their life. If in the future, instead of a “285 calorie” slice of pizza, we label it a more effective, “6-mile run” slice of pizza, I think more of us might find ourselves reaching for the nearest apple.


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