How many times have we reported on nanny state governors, city councilors, and mayors like former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg trying to legislate consumption behavior of Americans?  And do we ever find out whether these laws actually work?

But there is evidence of what does work: A new study targeting the consumption behavior of American teens confirms that giving them the correct information about sugary beverages and letting them choose what to drink is the better approach to changing short-term and long-term behavior. We’d call that common sense.

Researchers conducted an interesting experiment in Baltimore, targeting inner-city teens, who tend to consume sugary beverages at a higher rate. They experimented with posting different signs outside of the corner stores and places where the adolescents would purchase drinks. The best performing signs listed how many miles it would take to walk off the calories from a given beverage. Consumption dropped by over 10 percent and remained at that level for months after the signs were taken down.

The Washington Post reports:

“Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?” If you saw a sign saying that on the vending machine or a convenience store cooler, would you still buy the drink?

According to a new study from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, teens were less likely to buy sugary drinks after seeing such signs signs–saying how far they’d have to walk to burn off the calories.…

On colorful 8.5 by 11 inch paper, each sign was displayed for two weeks in each store between August 2012 and June 2013. There were four signs in all, each with a key fact about the calories in a 20 ounce bottle of soda, sports drink or fruit juice:

1) “Did you know that a bottle of soda or fruit juice has about 250 calories?”

(2) “Did you know that a bottle of soda or fruit juice has about 16 teaspoons of sugar?”

(3) “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?”

(4) “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 5 miles of walking?

The most effective sign was the one that warned shoppers they’d have to walk five miles to burn off the drink.

The results suggest that doing the calorie/exercise equation for consumers could motivate people to improve their eating habits more than simply displaying calorie content on food labels.

This finding is interesting and important because it underscores that legislating behavior often fails to meet expected results.

Under ObamaCare chain restaurants with more than twenty locations will have to post caloric information on their menus. That within itself is a regulatory burden. It may also be a waste of time. People see and gloss over numbers like calories of they don’t have a frame of reference to help them make sense of it.

Furthermore, this simple experiment confirms an understanding of human behavior and human action. People –especially teens – hate being told what to do or forced to do something they don’t want to do. However, giving someone information and a choice makes all of the difference. Information empowers people as it respects their individual intelligence and agency. That generates the best behavior, because it’s lasting change.

And with information, one can be held responsible for the results – personal responsibility.

Just one caveat: these signs shouldn't be government financed. If it's privately done, however, what a great idea!

But it is also important to remember that, even more than signs, parents should be the ones informing teens.