Overeating and eating foods that are high in calories is seemingly part of the American way. Dying too young of heart disease is becoming a similar American tradition as fast food restaurants pop up in every town and city. Healthy eating advocates characterize fast food restaurants as tantamount to drug dealers, as they peddle their artery-clogging wares to a public that hungers for them, leading to disease and death as a result of their own consumptive habits. Now, researchers with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Texas Christian University are trying to find new ways to get people to stop buying this fat- and grease-laden grub.
Initially it was thought that putting calorie counts on the menu might discourage people from ordering fast food that should come with a triple bypass, but that has not discouraged sales at all, partly because those numbers are generally ethereal and meaningless to most people.
The researchers at UT Southwestern and Texas Christian want to begin by adding how long a person would have to walk in order to burn off a specific meal. While saying a Whopper meal has 1,160 calories might not impress upon a person the sheer healthlessness of the food, telling them that a double quarter pounder with cheese would take two hours of brisk walking to combat might have a more realistic impact.
They have not published the exact results of their early study, but it has already taken place. 300 adults in the 18-30 age group were presented with fast food menus that listed the walking times that would be associated with each item on display. While the juicy, mouth-watering picture might lead them to order a triple-decker burger, the concept of having to spend two and a half hours walking for one meal seemed to prevent them from going for the more fattening fare.
Those that were shown menus with walking time in minutes consistently ordered lower calorie foods. Those that were shown menus with no information and those that were shown menus with calorie counts tended to order similar amounts of the high-calorie foods.
It seems that threatening people with the grim specter of exercise was enough to force them out of their eating ennui and make better, healthier decisions about what they should be putting into their body.