A fascinating new survey conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine showed that when the number of calories for menu items was translated into physical activity, people made better eating decisions. To put that in plain English, when people saw they’d have to walk 2.6 miles to burn off the burger they were ordering, they ordered less food.
In the survey researchers tested four label options: one listed just the food item, one listed the food and the number of calories it contained, one listed food, calories and the equivalent walking distance for the those calories, and the last one listed food, calories and the amount of walking time the calories equaled (see image above). Here’s what happened:
People who viewed the menu without nutritional information ordered a meal totaling 1,020 calories, on average, significantly more than the average 826 calories ordered by those who viewed menus that included information about walking-distance. Study participants ordered meals adding up to averages of 927 calories and 916 calories from menus with only calorie information or calorie information plus minutes walking, respectively, although the differences between these two totals were not statistically significant.
The researchers next want to translate this survey into a real world setting to see what kind of results they’d achieve. This is similar to a red, yellow green labeling system that was successfully tested a while back that also helped people eat better.
People who read food labels are significantly thinner than those who don’t, according to a new study in Agricultural Economics called The effects of nutritional labels on obesity. Researchers found that label readers had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) that was 1.39 point lower than their non-reading counterparts.
That may not sound like a lot, but it could easily be 10lbs or more depending on your starting size, enough to push some people from the “overweight” to the “healthy” category or from “obese” to “overweight.” The study also found that women benefit even more than men if they read labels, with a BMI that’s 1.49 points lower.
One of the keys to my own 65lb weight loss was learning to reading the backs of labels, which helped me spot foods that seemed healthy but that were actually contributing to my weight gain. For example, I used to think Vitamin Water was a healthy alternative to soft drinks until I read the label closely and realized it had a staggering 55g of sugar, which is the equivalent of eleven sugar packets! And I was getting most of the vitamins in the “vitamin water” (which is really sugar water) from food I was already eating, meaning they were basically useless.
So, weighthackers, learn to read food labels if you don’t know how. It can (literally) make a big difference.
In the somewhat painfully named study A 2-Phase Labeling and Choice Architecture Intervention to Improve Healthy Food and Beverage Choices, researchers added color coded labels to food sold in a large hospital cafeteria to see if they could influence people to make healthier choices. They used a simple red, yellow, green system where red meant unhealthy, yellow meant less healthy and green meant healthy.
In the first phase of the study, items were placed where they would normally be found. In the second phase, some of the green items were placed where they were more visible and therefore more convenient to buy. The results were dramatic, especially with drinks:
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