UK lack of calorie awareness 'deeply concerning', says British Heart Foundation

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

British Heart Foundation says poll results are "deeply concerning and highlight our confusion about calories"
British Heart Foundation says poll results are "deeply concerning and highlight our confusion about calories"

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Around two thirds of people in the UK do not know how many calories an average person needs to maintain a healthy weight, according to a survey commissioned by two charities and supermarket Tesco.

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.

Charity-retail partnership

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. 

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Calories Don't Count

Posted by Grant Roberts,

Wilbur Atwater who coined the term calorie following an observational experiment when incinerating the energy containing nutrients protein fat and carbohydrates in metal ovens on behalf of the US department of agriculture forewarned in his report that "calories" have nothing to do with human nutrition. Calorie counting is more harmful than good and takes the focus off of nutrients. A calorie is not a calorie primarily because humans do not have cast iron stomach and instead the thermal effect of food, hormonal release and limited capacity to store glycogen associated with carbohydrates dictate whether a food will be used as energy or stored as fat. We must stop this oversimplified counting calories - all foods are not created equal as the middlesex study illustrated in the 1950's. In a calorie restricted diet (1000 cal) measuring"weight" loss - the group that ate 1000 calories per day of fat lost 0.9 pounds per day, the group that ate 1000 calories of protein lost 0.6 pounds per day and the group that ate 1000 calories of carbohydrates GAINED "WEIGHT" 0.25 pounds of a calorie restricted diet. Most importantly the uninformative focus on calories overlooks the delivery of essential nutrients which support life. For more information read the blogs as

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nobody counts calories anyway

Posted by mark wareing,

Even people who do know the recommended daily calorie figures, do not usually bother counting calories. There are many reasons for this. Just the logistics of counting calories for every meal is more than most people can be bothered with and unless the calorific value for every meal and snack can be counted, there is no point trying. It is not uncommon for people to leave part of a meal anyway. Many people eat at least one takeaway or restaurant meal a day for which they do not have a calorie figure (a typical lunch for example). In addition, people who do know a little about nutrition, are aware that the calorie count is highly approximate - overestimating the calories from protein for example, which in practice are much lower than quoted. This not only because protein is harder to digest, but also the excess nitrogen in protein must be excreted as urea - which further reduces the calorific value for protein. The calorie requirement also depends on age, sex and lifestyle and so the average figures quoted are simply wrong for many people.People who are overweight know that they are not eating sensibly, but prefer to ignore the fact. Providing nutritional information on alcoholic beverages, probaly would encourage some people to reduce their calorie intake from this unhealthy source.

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