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'Exercise labels' beat out calorie counts in steering consumers away from junk food

December 20, 2011
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(Relaxnews) - American health experts are suggesting that junk food and sodas be packaged with "exercise labels" to let consumers know exactly how much exercise is required to burn off the calorie and fat content within the products. A can of soda? Fifty minutes of jogging on a treadmill.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins's Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US observed teenagers at stores where signs displayed either calorie counts, calorie counts as a percent of recommended daily calorie intake, or the time spent jogging that would be needed to burn off the drink.

While all signs led the teenagers to purchase fewer drinks, researchers discovered that the most powerful influence was the calorie conversion to exercise minutes. For example, a 250-calorie can of soda read that it would take 50 minutes of running to burn off the calorie content.

"People generally underestimate the number of calories in the foods and beverages they consume," said lead researcher Dr. Sara Bleich in a press release.

"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."

The study was published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

To counteract obesity in the US, the Food and Drug Administration proposed rules this year that require restaurant and fast food chains to post the calorie content of standard items on their menus. The rules also apply to vending machines, coffee shops, and convenience and grocery stores, although not to movie theaters, bowling alleys, and airliners, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For smartphone users, AthleteInMe.com offers an exercise and fitness app for iPhone, iPad, and Android-compatible smartphones that converts the calories in fast-food items into minutes of exercise based on your weight.

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