Calorie guidance could be too low, says SACN

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Obesity

Scientists advising the UK government have called for an increase in recommended energy requirement levels.

In a draft report on energy requirements, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) said Estimated Average Requirements (EARs) should be increased by up to 16 per cent.

Current recommendations put daily calorie intake at 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men, and so a 16 per cent increase would give men an extra 400 calories to play with. This conclusion sparked a flurry of media reports suggesting that some people can now indulge in an extra cheeseburger a day, or two more packs of ready salted crisps.

But the SACN said the revised reference values should not be interpreted as a green light to eat more. On the contrary, the report said exercise levels need to be increased in relation to calories consumed to reduce the number of overweight and obese people.

Assumed exercise levels

The aim of the report is rather to present a more accurate picture of what daily energy requirements should be. According to the authors, previous recommendations, based on research from the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy in 1991, underestimated average levels of daily exercise.

They say that the average physical activity level assumed in the 1991 study was lower than the values observed for 90 per cent of the subjects in the reference adult population examined for their report. The SACD said the cause of this discrepancy is likely to be a failure to account sufficiently for the influence of “routine activities of daily living”​ on energy expenditure in the earlier study.

Political implications

The SACD draft conclusion that EARs should be increased could lead to higher Dietary Reference Values (DRV) for food energy. This may be a troubling conclusion for the government, which had commissioned the report partly because surveys have consistently found energy intake to be below EARs, despite the growing obesity problem in the UK.

Some press reports suggested that the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would try to sweep the report under the carpet so as to not send out the wrong message during an obesity crisis.

But a spokesperson for the FSA told FoodNavigator.com: “It’s absolutely untrue that the FSA wants to sweep this story under the carpet. The FSA proactively announced the publication of SACN’s draft report on energy requirements, and the start of a scientific consultation, on its website on 5 November.”

Scientific consultation runs until 11 February 2010. Respondents are asked to comment on the scientific content of the report only, and not on the risk management aspects of the conclusions.

The FSA spokesperson said that when the final report is published: “The FSA and health departments will carefully consider the recommendations and any possible implications.”

Related topics: Labelling, Science

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