Weight Loss with HEALTHeME

Weight loss and good health made simple

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Does technology change behavior?

Daily reminders aid weight loss.

We live in an age of high-speed information. We have immediate access to information by way of high-speed internet connections, apps on our mobile phones, and little devices we strap to our bodies to give us information like our heart rate, calories we’ve burned, and how far we’ve walked. We even have information staring us in the face when we eat out. Many restaurants now list nutrition information on the menu.

Considering all of this healthy-living information we have at our fingertips, it makes me wonder: is all of this information translating into action?

It’s time for true confessions of your HEALTHeME nurse. Hi, I’m Lauren, and I’m a Starbucks addict. I’m not talking about just coffee. I’m addicted to the kinds of coffee concoctions that scream “high maintenance” and cost almost $5 a pop. But, when I found out that my favorite drink had over 400 calories, 15g of fat, and almost 60 g of sugar, I did an abrupt about face! I started ordering a tall, skinny version that topped out at 110 calories.
It seems I’m not the only one affected by this kind of nutrition information. A recent study found that signs displaying the calorie count of sodas or the amount of time you would have to jog to burn off that soda reduced the purchase of sugary beverages among a group of teenagers. The display of signs led to a doubling of the number of bottles of water sold at the store. Interestingly, while all signs led to a decrease of sugary beverage purchase, the signs that spelled out the amount of time you would have to exercise to burn off a soda were the most successful. This may be because it’s so much easier to understand consequences of 250 calories if it means you have to jog 40 minutes.

However, another recent study reported a very different outcome. In the study, researchers evaluated the impact on calories consumed by adults and children when they were faced with nutrition information at a fast-food restaurant. While the nutrition information led to increased awareness of the facts, it did not translate into fewer calories purchased for either the parents or their children. So, is this because nutrition labels are hard for people to understand or relate to? After all, most people over-estimate the number of calories they burn during a single exercise session and underestimate the number of calories they consume on a daily basis.

It may be this very reason that the USDA launched the new MyPlate to replace the older food guide pyramid. The plate method provides an easy-to-use visual representation of a balanced meal. This provides diners with a “call to action”, giving them a specific goal when sitting down to a meal. So, rather than trying to recall the number of servings and serving sizes of different food groups, you can aim for a plate that is balanced: ½ of the plate should be fruits and vegetables, ¼ of the plate is a whole grain (like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or wheat bread), ¼ of the plate is a protein source, and the balanced meal should include a serving of dairy.

Whether it’s just calorie information or being aware of the number of minutes you would have to exercise to work off your latest indulgence, the information is intended to help you make better choices. But the information can’t act on it’s own! You have the power to make better, healthier choices. It’s time to take all that new knowledge and make the right choice!