Back in the Bloombergian days of yore (circa 2009), the city mandated that all chain restaurants display menu items' calorie counts in an attempt to help New Yorkers make healthier eating choices. Though studies offered up mixed results, the health department claimed the calorie counts were having a positive effect on chain store consumers—but now, a new study says restaurants are better off advertising the number of miles it takes to burn off an entree instead of standalone calories. Chipotle menus are going to start taking an hour to read, aren't they?
The study [pdf], published by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that consumers typically don't quite grasp how to measure calories, supporting studies that have shown that menu calorie counts are ineffective. Instead, researchers suggest menus list the number of miles one needs to walk in order to burn off those calories. The study found that teenagers in low-income Baltimore neighborhoods who were exposed to signs showing the number of miles they needed to walk to burn off a particular soda ended up purchasing smaller sodas and sodas with fewer calories. "People don't really understand what it means to say a typical soda has 250 calories," Sara Bleich, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers, told NPR, noting that listing necessary miles "may be the more persuasive way."
This is old news for New Yorkers, considering our health department's already run anti-obesity ads that transform calories into walking distance. But considering a portion of the Affordable Care Act will require all of the country's chain restaurants to display calorie counts, the Johns Hopkins study could prove to be helpful on a national scale. Then again, Mayor de Blasio might be resurrecting Bloomberg's now-dead soda ban one day, so perhaps none of us will need to walk off those Coke calories in the near future.