Food Industry

Published on April 30th, 2013 | by Mary Gerush


Would You Exercise 50 Minutes For That Loaded Hot Dog?

Hot Dog

Does knowing a hot dog with the works has 404 calories deter you from wolfing it down? How about knowing you’d have to play 50 minutes of tennis to burn those calories?

While food labels display calorie-per-serving information and the FDA tries to figure out the logistics of requiring calorie counts on menus, a new study shows this may not be the best way to help people make better eating decisions. Researchers at Texas Christian University (TCU) gave 300 men and women, ages 18 to 30, three menus with identical food and drink options: One menu had no calorie labeling, the second listed calorie counts, and the third displayed the number of minutes of brisk walking required to burn each food item’s calories. “Brisk walking is something nearly everyone can relate to, which is why we displayed on the menu the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories,” said Ashlei James, TCU grad student and lead researcher.

The results? People ordered and ate less from menus showing the exercise needed to burn their orders’ food calories than they did from menus displaying only calorie counts. Also of note — there was no significant difference between responses to menus with calorie counts included and those without. Which begs the question: Is displaying calorie counts on restaurant menus really the best way to help consumers make informed choices? As an aside, those counts are often inaccurate.

Another survey of New York City consumers (where menu labeling has been required since 2008) also puts the effectiveness of calorie labeling in the spotlight: Only a sixth of the 2009 survey respondents used calorie information to decide what to purchase from fast food restaurants. Yet the government has spent three years and untold dollars dealing with the thorny issue of menu labeling. Hmmm…

I’m pretty sure knowing I’d have to walk a 26.2 mile marathon to burn off my typical Thanksgiving meal might make me pause before piling on the mashed potatoes. How about you?

Image credit: TheCulinaryGeek via flickr/CC

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About the Author

Hi all! I'm Mary Gerush - a recovering corporate worker bee turned good-farm-real-food advocate and writer who wants to help people understand what they're eating. I tend a tiny urban farm in Dallas, TX, and hope to scale up one day soon. Omnivore through-and-through, there's not much I love to eat more than a butter-basted grass fed steak fresh from a searing hot cast iron skillet. Follow me on , , and !

6 Responses to Would You Exercise 50 Minutes For That Loaded Hot Dog?

  1. Mary what a great post on calories on the hot dog. 50 minutes of workout is alot for one hot dog, image two hot dogs, a 3 set match.

    We all live such busy lives who has the time to always read the label, a graphical picture grabs attention, so I would choose graphical picture over any label personally.

  2. Richard says:

    Very interesting study. My take is that the average person has no idea what calories actually mean. They don’t know how many are burned in a normal day or anything about them. So does it make sense for us to spend money labeling menu’s with calorie count or do we need better education in schools about healthy eating.

  3. Dave says:

    Yea 50 min workout for 1 hot dog, i’ll pass thank you very much.

  4. Marg says:

    I am with Richard on this.
    Most people do not have a good idea or appreciation of calorie count. And I would add that unless one is particularly disciplined we never sum up our total intake for a day anyway.
    So standing in line at Subway or McDonald’s with each item have their calories listed or a general statement that the average daily intake is ‘nnnn’ calories has little impact or value. Even the exercise requirement will only have limited impact.
    There needs to be a two pronged attack. More control over what can be classed as ‘food’ and again as Richard says better education from an early age. Even this second point is difficult. Many folk will have budgetary restrictions and often of the cheaper foods are the less desirable ones.

  5. Rey says:

    Really? a single hot dog will take you that much time to burn,, >_<


  6. Ann says:

    Interesting study. I appreciate knowing the calorie content as well as the fat content (I’d be deliriously happy if the fat content was classified by type.) and it does impact my decisions. I must be in the 1/6th. Converting the calories to exercise minutes certainly makes the information easier to understand.

    Thanksgiving: I’ve been told that calories don’t count on Thanksgiving. Do not mess with my delusion!

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