Survey highlights lack of nutrition knowledge

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — Only 12% of consumers surveyed can accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume in a day for a person of their age, height, weight and physical activity level, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s “Food & Health Survey.”

Of those consumers who say they are trying to lose or maintain their weight, only 19% said there are keeping track of calories. Almost half of the consumers surveyed also could not identify how many calories they burn in a day or offered inaccurate estimates. With regard to tracking the calories consumed during the day versus calories burned, 58% of the survey’s respondents said they do not make an effort to balance the two.

In its fifth year, the I.F.I.C. survey is designed to gain insight into how consumers view their own diets, the efforts they are taking to improve them, how they balance diet and exercise, and their actions when it comes to food safety practices. Conducted during a two-and-a half-week period in April and May 2010, the I.F.I.C. survey included 1,024 responses from adults.

Overall, a majority of survey respondents, 70%, said they are concerned about their weight status, and 77% said they are trying to lose or maintain their weight. When asked what actions they are taking, most respondents said they are changing the amount of food they eat; changing the type of foods they eat; and engaging in physical activity.

“Americans are hearing about the importance of weight to their health from a variety of sources, and it appears to be driving healthful changes in their lives,” said Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice-president of nutrition and food safety at the I.F.I.C. “Even at the highest levels of government, from the White House’s Let’s Move campaign to the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there’s significant focus on an overweight and obese population, with an emphasis on reducing the amount of calories in the diet and increasing physical activity, but first people need to understand the role that calories play.”

A new topic added to this year’s survey was sodium consumption. Fifty-three per cent of the respondents said they are concerned with the amount of sodium in their diet. Six in 10 said they regularly purchase reduced or lower sodium products. Among those who do purchase the reduced or low sodium items, the most cited products included canned soup, snacks and canned vegetables.

Thirty-eight per cent of the respondents also said that low-calorie, artificial sweeteners may play a role in weight loss or weight management, and 34% said the sweeteners may reduce the calorie content of foods. Thirty-two per cent said they consume low-calorie, artificial sweeteners to help with calorie management, according to the survey.

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