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94% of UK adults 'unaware' of how many calories they consume daily

By Nathan Gray+

30-Apr-2014
Last updated the 30-Apr-2014 at 16:02 GMT

94% of UK adults 'unaware' of how many calories they consume daily

The vast majority of UK consumers (94%) do not regularly track calorie intakes, while more still do not know how many calories sugar contains.

The findings come from a new survey commissioned by AB Sugar, and suggests that a lack of public knowledge leading to obesity crisis in UK. The survey also suggest that consumers do not understand which foods have the highest levels of the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate and fats, while only one in ten (10%) of UK adults regularly keep fit.

“There’s no denying that the country is currently fighting an uphill battle against obesity but, as our research suggests, consumers are completely overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive about what to put into their bodies," commented Dr Julian Cooper, Head of Food Science at AB Sugar.

“It’s clear from our research that it’s not just a lack of understanding about calorie consumption and expenditure that is causing a problem, but confusion about the different food groups, their role in our diet and how to balance it all."

However, food policy expert Professor Jack Winkler warned that any policy suggestion focusing on consumer education is inappropriate.  

"Most people do not have PhDs in nutrition, do not monitor their food intake obsessively, and hence do not know some elementary facts about what they are eating," said Winkler. "No information campaign, no matter how thorough, will ever make average consumers nutritionally knowledgeable."

"It is precisely the failure of such policies that have led to the current emphasis on the reformulation of sweet products. We have failed to change people, so we must try changing foods."

"AB Sugar is trying to turn the clock back to a failed policy.  If it wants to truly be part of the solution as well as part of the problem, it should engage with the massive current interest in reformulation."

Consumer confusion?

AB Sugar said the results of the study, which polled 2,000 British consumers, show that consumers are continually confused about food, and as a result do not keep track of the energy (calories) they consume versus the energy (calories) they burn off.

The survey also showed that:

  • Over a third (35%) did not know that fish, chicken and eggs are good sources of protein;
  • Almost a third (28%) didn’t know rice, bread and pasta are high in carbohydrates; and
  • Over a quarter (28%) did not know that cream, oil and butter are high in fat.

AB Sugar added that a recent media focus on sugar may also have contributed to wrongly held misconceptions, such as  an idea that there are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sugars.

"Vast numbers of people (98%) also didn’t know that sugar only has 16 calories per teaspoon (4g). In fact the average guess was five times higher at 89 calories," stated the AB Sugar press release.

Furthermore, half of women (49%) and three fifths of men (64%) wrongly guessed, or simply stated they didn’t know, what their recommended daily calorie intake should be.

However, Winkler noted that claims there is no such thing as 'good or 'bad' sugars in the AB Sugar report is a factual error. He warned that such claims, and suggestions that there is no distinction between sugars in fruit and other sugars is incorrect as the human body does treat 'intrinsic' and 'extrinsic' (or free) sugars differently.

"The distinction is important for both oral health and the insulin reaction," he said.

No business sense?

Winkler told us that ‘ironically’, AB Sugar ‘know’ there would be no commercial risk to their business by supporting current reformulation efforts. 

“AB Sugar is now just beginning a £300-million investment programme in expanding and modernising its sugar refining capacity in East Anglia. They are preparing for a substantial increase in their sales, both here and in export markets, as a consequence of the changes in the EU Sugar Regime under the Common Agricultural Policy.”

“Against that optimistic economic background, from their point of view, they can easily afford to play a constructive role in reducing our excessive sugar consumption,” said Winkler. “Instead, they continue their traditional obstructive role of trying to blame others.”

“This is not only bad public health, it is bad business as well."