The poll, commissioned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Diabetes UK and Tesco, found that 65% of respondents did not know that an average man required 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight, while 63% could not pinpoint the 2,000 calories recommended for women.
Awareness was particularly low among older people, with 26% of over 55s knowing this calorie count for women and 23% for men.
BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “These figures are deeply concerning and highlight our confusion about calories. Eating too much of any food increases the chances of becoming obese, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, which is the UK’s single biggest killer.”
What’s in it?
In addition to this overall knowledge deficit, the poll showed that many people struggled to identify the calorie counts of specific foods.
The calorie count of a medium latte and blueberry muffin – which actually contains 620 calories – was underestimated by 40% of people. This was the case for 33% of people for half a pint of semi skimmed milk (136 calories) and 39% for a chicken tikka masala curry and rice meal (800 calories).
The BHF said this was particularly concerning given how everyday these foods were. It said greater focus on the basic principle of energy balance, i.e. matching calories consumed and used, was needed to address the UK’s 62% rate of overweight adults.
The survey came as the BHF, Diabetes UK and Tesco began a three-year partnership which aimed to raise £30m for a series of healthy-lifestyle initiatives. Diabetes UK said it raised millions during a similar partnership with Tesco in 2013 and 2014. As part of the project, Tesco was also offering free health checks for 40,000 people in January at its UK store pharmacies.