The food police are back on the prowl thanks to a recent study from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (yes, that Bloomberg). The study sought to reduce consumption of juice and soda by posting signs in six corner stores “informing” customers how much exercise would be needed to burn off the calories contained in a beverage.
The Washington Post’s Wonkblog fawned over the study, declaring it “the surprisingly simple way to get people to stop buying soda.” (Thus revealing the true goal of the signs and the study) However, as the Post acknowledges, the study was severely limited in its scope. It only measured a group of 12-18 year olds that visited one of six stores in urban Baltimore over less than a year.
But there’s a fundamental flaw with so-called “exercise equivalent” labels. As we’ve discussed before, the average person burns somewhere around 1,000 to 1,500 calories daily, simply by breathing and staying alive. Contrary to what the study would have you believe, drinking a soda or a glass of orange juice will not immediately make your waistline rival that of Kelly Brownell.
Whether or not someone gains weight from drinking a soda or juice is hugely dependent on what other calories that person consumes during the day. By simply managing to make it through a day without dying, the average person will use enough calories to drink more than ten cans of regular soda a day without ever breaking a sweat. We’re not suggesting people do this or to imply that exercise is not beneficial (it is), but the idea that the calories consumed in a soda can only be worked off by walking an additional five miles is ludicrous.
The study’s labels also say nothing about an individual’s sex, age, body type, weight, height, etc. Exercise affects everyone differently based upon these, and other, basic characteristics. A 250-pound man will burn more calories running (or walking) a mile than a svelte 100-pound woman. To imply that some standardized amount of exercise will have the same effect on all individuals is not only wrong, but deceitful.
It would seem that just like other food policing strategies, this method may be no more effective than one of Wile E. Coyote’s schemes for catching the Road Runner- they may work in theory, but quickly fall apart in reality.