Share this article

print logo

Walking away versus walking it off

By Gabriella Boston

Special to The Washington Post

If you knew that a 12-ounce chocolate chip frappe (530 calories) would cost you up to two hours of brisk walking, would you still order it?

New research shows that when we have “exercise cost” information readily available, we are less likely to make unhealthful food choices.

The research, by Meena Shah at Texas Christian University, shows that when restaurants give not only the calorie content but also exercise-cost information, customers tend to make better choices.

“It’s helpful because it puts calories in context,” says Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness. “I am a big believer in calorie labeling at restaurants, and this is even better.”

Without that exercise-cost context, people tend to underestimate calorie content in various food and overestimate the number of calories burned while exercising, says Nicole Brown, a dietitian with practices in Washington and Springfield, Va.

For example, it would take a 130-pound person two hours and 35 minutes of housecleaning to burn about 525 calories, about the amount in that frappe.

Or do you prefer vigorous jumping jacks? A little over an hour of those and our 130-pound person will have burned off that drink. Vigorous bicycling? We’re looking at just under an hour.

It’s not easy to offset culinary splurges with exercise. It takes a lot of work, and when that work is listed in plain sight – for example as you are ready to order your frappe – you just might make a more healthful choice because you don’t have time for a two-hour walk. “I am thrilled with this research,” Brown says. “It really begs the question: How am I going to exercise that much?”

It’s an important concern, especially for chair-bound office workers who aren’t burning many calories.