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A few preliminary studies suggest that labeling fast food menu items with calorie counts and the amount of physical activity required to burn the calories in the food may reduce the number of calories adults purchase for a fast food meal.

A new study, “Potential Effect of Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent Labeling on Parent Fast Food Decisions​,” appearing in the February 2015 issue of Pediatrics (published online Jan. 26), examined whether fast food menu items labeled with calories and the amount of exercise needed to use up those calories would affect parents’ menu choices for their children.

The study gave parents four types of menu labels:

  • No labels
  • Calories only
  • Calories plus minutes
  • Calories plus miles needed to walk to burn off the calories

The authors found that while any labels showing calories reduced the amount of calories parents ordered for their children, the labels with the calories and physical activity needed to burn off the calories were effective in reducing calories ordered and motivating parents to encourage physical activity in their children.

If such a strategy proves successful in real-world settings, the resulting combination of fewer calories and more physical activity could be a step toward curbing childhood obesity.