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Energy Menu-Labeling Strategy Could Be a Breakthrough

If you knew before ordering the double cheeseburger and fries that it would require about 2 1⁄2 hours of brisk walking at 5–6 miles per hour to burn them off, would you think twice?

Menu labeling that zeroes in on energy information—specifically, how much physical energy needs to be expended to balance the food ordered—may be a key to unlocking better choices by young adults, according to a study reported in the February 27 online edition of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Scientists set out to determine the effect of lunch menu labels displaying the kilocalorie content of food items versus labels showing the exercise equivalent of energy ordered and consumed. Subjects were randomized to a menu with no labels; a menu with kcal labels showing the energy content of the food; or a menu with exercise labels displaying the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn the food energy.

Three hundred subjects aged 21.9–24.2 (55.7% female; 77.3% college students) ordered and consumed foods and beverages for lunch from the menu to which they were assigned in a university dining area. Those in the exercise-label group ordered and consumed significantly less food than the no-label group, whereas those in the kcal-label group did not. There was no difference in postlunch energy intake by menu type.

Study authors concluded that “the menu with exercise-labels resulted in less energy ordered and consumed, and this did not lead to greater energy consumption post lunch.”

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