A provision in the Affordable Care Act means that calorie counts will soon be de facto parts of chain menus, but rigorous studies have shown that listing three- and (in some egregious cases) four-digit numbers has almost no effect on curbing high-calorie consumption, so what’s a health advocate to do? Researchers at Johns Hopkins say we might all want to start listing how many miles it takes to get rid of that item instead of barraging people with random numbers.
“People don’t really understand what it means to say a typical soda has 250 calories,” one researcher, Sara Bleich, said. In an attempt to fix this, she and a group of colleagues posted signs that assigned amounts of exercise to items in Baltimore convenience stores. For instance, it’s five miles to burn off a 20-ounce soda. Then they watched what groups of teens bought, and even though the setting for the study was a high-crime neighborhood with “all sorts of social disadvantages” and things besides soda to worry about, a lot of the teens opted for the smaller sizes, so calories in the average purchase actually shrank by 10 percent.
Researchers say they believe this attention-grabbing tactic would work equally well at Chipotle and Starbucks, but it’s of course not without its own potential for abuse once some marketing genius figures out they can advertise the newest, needlessly calorific fast-food item as an extreme challenge, a gut-bomb gauntlet of sorts that requires its own companion Iron Man to digest.