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  Americans: Calories Don't Add Up  
(WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2006)鈥擶hile Americans are concerned about their weight and frequently look for calorie information on food package labels, nearly nine out of 10 Americans are unable to accurately estimate the number of calories they should eat in an average day. This is one of the most dramatic findings from a national survey conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation.
The online survey, designed to develop a comprehensive picture of Americans鈥 perceptions and behaviors regarding key health related issues including diet, physical activity, and weight, was conducted among 1,060 Americans age 18 or older in November 2005.
How Many Calories per Day?
When asked 鈥渉ow many calories a person your age, weight, and height should consume per day?鈥 43 percent of Americans would not venture a guess (answering 鈥渄on鈥檛 know鈥 to the question). Of the 57 percent who did provide an estimate, 79 percent guessed wrong the number of calories they should consume, based on the USDA鈥檚 formula from MyPyramid.gov, which was released in 2005 and bases calorie consumption estimates on factors such as age, gender, and exercise frequency. In total, this means that 88 percent, or nearly nine out of 10 Americans are mistaken about how many calories they should consume each day.
Are All Calories the Same?
The survey also revealed Americans are confused about the extent to which the basic food components like dietary fat, carbohydrates, and protein can contribute to weight gain. Only 29 percent of Americans agreed with the correct statement, 鈥渃alories in general are what cause weight gain (i.e., all calories are the same).鈥 Of the remaining respondents, 26 percent said calories from fats are most likely to cause weight gain, 20 percent said carbohydrates, and only two percent said protein. Twenty-two percent admitted they were not sure.
Calories Don鈥檛 Add Up
What makes this confusion somewhat surprising is that among the vast majority of Americans (94 percent) who report ever looking at the Nutrition Facts Panel when deciding which foods and beverages to purchase, calorie information is the most frequently cited (67 percent).
But, when asked, unaided, what changes they are making to improve the overall healthfulness of their diet, only two percent said 鈥渆ating fewer calories,鈥 and another 12 percent said 鈥渞educing amounts eaten at meals.鈥 Americans were much more likely to cite other actions such as 鈥渃onsuming less of a specific food or beverage鈥 (21 percent) or 鈥渃hanging meal/snack patterns鈥 (nine percent).
While this number jumps considerably when Americans are provided a list of specific behaviors, Americans continue to be more likely to say they are reducing the amount eaten at meals (57 percent) and changing meal/snack patterns (55 percent), than consuming fewer calories (42 percent).
鈥淭his indicates that, while Americans are aware of calories and the general advice that consuming fewer calories may improve overall health, reducing the number of calories consumed is not top of mind,鈥 said Susan T. Borra, RD, President, IFIC Foundation and past president of the American Dietetic Association. 鈥淲hat this survey tells us is that most American consumers are confused about how to use calorie information to make changes in their overall diet in order to improve their health in general or to better manage their weight.鈥
鈥淲ith so much attention focused on the health risks associated with overweight/obesity and advice from many health professionals focused on helping consumers achieve a better balance between energy consumption and expenditure, it will be interesting to see how consumer awareness and understanding of calorie information change over time,鈥 said Borra.
This new research is the initial finding of The IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey, a tracking survey intended to provide ongoing information on consumer attitudes toward health, nutrition, and food. Additional findings on dietary fats, carbohydrates, and sugars will be released over the next few weeks. IFIC Foundation plans to replicate this research every 12-24 months.
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