How to Get Kids to Drink Less Soda.

Earlier in the month, I wrote a post about the number of steps it would take to burn off some popular, high-calorie foods likes pizza (4,560 steps per slice), ice cream (1,980 steps) and french fries (6,000 steps). According to a new study, sobering reminders like these can lower the consumption of unhealthy foods.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University tested three different types of labeling with various signs at different corner stores. They wanted to see if any such signage deterred young people from consuming high calorie colas.

One sign simply said that each soda can contains 250 calories. In this way, the label mirrored the nutrition information printed on the product. At a second store, the sign said that the soda contains 10 percent of the daily recommended caloric intake. At a third store, the sign reminded customers that it would take 50 minutes of running to counteract the calories in the cola.

Though each sign reduced soda sales, the sign that highlighted the physical activity equivalent (i.e., 50 minutes of running) was the most effective. Soda sales plummeted by a shocking 50% at that location.

It seems that some people don’t really understand the concept of calories and what they really mean. But they do understand the concept of spending 50 minutes on the treadmill; that translates much clearer. It makes things less abstract.

Dr. Sara Bleich, one of the researchers from the study went on to say:

People generally underestimate the number of calories in the foods and beverages they consume. 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.

On a larger scale, I think the study challenges our current nutrition labeling system. While more research is clearly needed, perhaps we need to consider changing the way we highlight nutrition content to make things clearer and easier to understand for consumers.

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  1. This is quite an interesting study. Honestly, I think people would make better food choices if all products had the amount of exercise needed to lose what you just consumed. I agree that when they just tell you the amount of calories, even I underestimate the calorie value. Though companies may lose out on up to half their profit, it is big risk to take for the well being of the consumers.

  2. This is interesting, but seems wrong? If a can of pop is 250 calories, it really depends upon how fast you run to burn off. I run a relatively slow 10 minute mile, based on a number of calculators that’s not much more than a 25 minute run.

    So was the point that they exaggerated the amount of running?

  3. The problem I have with labelling in such a way is that it is misleading, although it may have the beneficial effect of lowering consumption of such foods.

    It may take 50 minutes of running to burn off a coke, if you weren’t metabolising at all during that time. If we took into consideration digestion (of the cola and any other foods you ate that day), brain activity and vital bodily functions, thermoregulation (of the coke to body temperature… assuming you drank it cold and of your body a) to maintain regular body temperature and b) to work at cooling down post run (which will last well over the 50 minute end point of the run)) and finally any incidental exercise you did in order to get ready for/recover from your run - putting on clothes, walking to the fridge for coke, lifting the coke to your lips, showering after your run, rehydrating after your run.

    These all may be very small caloric expenditures but together they add up.

    In a regular person, actual conscious exercise makes up less than 15% of our daily caloric output.

    I’m not against such labelling as a deterrent. Not at all. Overeating is a huge issue and anything we can do to curb the problem. But like anything, there’s more to it.

    • DonsterNYC says:

      Joel, I’m LMAO right now. You have just provided a perfect example of why we have the package labeling we have today. Too many scientist providing volumes of research, formulas and contingencies. The 50 minutes listed as necessary to rid a person of the calories in a can of coke is probably very close for someone who truly needs to be concerned about calorie intact.