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How long would you have to run to burn off a soda? Here's a new way to count calories

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In an attempt to reverse the growing rates of obesity in America, consumers can look at the caloric information on food labels and fast food menus to avoid super sizing their meals and their waistlines. But starring at a bunch of numbers does not mean that the brain will make a healthy decision when the stomach is growling for an unhealthy choice.

According to one researcher, this method of counting calories would be more effective in helping people choose healthier food and drink selections if the amount needed to work off the item was posted as well.

Researchers and associate professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Sara Bleich found that it would take a 50-minute run to burn off the calories in one soda. 

"The problem with calories is that they're not very meaningful to people," Bleich says. "The average American doesn't know much about calories, and they're not good at numeracy."

Led by Bleich, a team of researchers posted signs that read, "Did you know that working off a bottle of soda takes about 50 minutes of running," next to soda in stores in low-income areas in Baltimore. Signs for fruit juice were posted as well.

The researchers analyzed data from about 3,000 drink purchases made by teens ages 12 to 19 and interviewed 25 percent of them. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, they found that of the 35 percent of teens who reported reading the signs, 59 percent believed the information and 40 percent changed their purchases based on the information.

Soda and juice sales dropped overall and many who did purchase the drinks opted for smaller sizes—12-ounce cans instead of 20-ounce bottles— proving that "providing caloric information was associated with purchasing a smaller sugar-sweetened beverage, switching to a beverage with no calories, or opting to not purchase a beverage."

"This is a very low-cost way to get children old enough to make their own purchases to drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, and they appear to be effective even after (the signs) are removed," Bleich says.

However, there are differences in how people metabolize food and drinks and it is hard to make the running equivalent universal to people of all ages, body types and level of fitness since people burn calories at different rates.

Still, this method of counting calories may be more effective, especially in low-income areas where health education is not a primary focus. The people who consume the most empty calories are typically made up of an the obese population who are not educated on nutrition and physical activity.

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