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The National Institutes of Health recently awarded researchers from the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Gillings School of Public Health more than $2 million to study the effects of physical activity food labeling on consumer food choices and exercise.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A new study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will examine whether adding the amount of walking it takes to burn off the calories in food items will lead consumers to make healthier choices.

Over one-third of adults in the United States are obese, and obesity remains a significant risk factor for many serious health problems. In an effort to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S., the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act established the requirement for restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie information on their menus boards. However, research has shown that calorie labeling may not actually lead to decreased calorie consumption.

The Effects of Physical Activity Calorie Expenditure (PACE) Food Labeling study, conducted in conjunction with Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of NC, will test physical activity food labels using three BCBS cafeterias across the state. For example, cafeteria patrons considering a double-cheeseburger would see that it would take about 196 minutes or 5.6 miles of walking to burn the calories it contains. Quickly comparing this to a hamburger (that contains far fewer calories), they would see that it would require about 78 minutes or about 2.6 miles of walking to burn the calories. This difference might persuade choosing the food item with fewer calories.
The National Institutes of Health funded the $2,332,953 study.

Anthony VieraAnthony Viera, MD, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and adjunct associate professor in the Public Health Leadership Program, and Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor in the Department of Nutrition at UNC’s School of Public Health and Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention will lead the project.

“We believe that labels displaying information about physical activity will allow people to better appreciate the trade-offs of high-calorie foods, and thereby influence them to make choices for foods with lower calories,” said Viera. “And we think that labeling foods like this may even have the extra benefit of promoting physical activity.”

“This is a great opportunity to learn whether we can improve lifestyle behavior through an innovative approach to policy and environmental change,” added Ammerman.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01CA184473. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.