In the coming days, with the likely release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 (exact date is unknown), the public will be hearing a great deal more than even recently about managing calories. Anticipating publication of the guidelines, a group of food industry groups, including the Grain Foods Foundation and the Wheat Industry Council, has initiated an educational effort aimed at helping consumers “achieve healthy, active lifestyles.”

The group, the Dietary Guidelines Alliance, recently published results of a consumer study that raises real question about whether consumers will ever succeed in tracking their calories. The researchers found many consumers lack even a rudimentary understanding of what calories are. Parents are too distracted to think about healthy eating and do not appreciate the health risks associated with overeating.

Glenn Gaesser, a researcher, noted that “calories in/calories out” may seem like a simple concept but is very difficult to track accurately, even for those who are conscientious. He noted that eating even 5-10 extra calories a day will lead to weight gain over time (and people take in about 750,000 calories per year). Dr. Gaesser also noted that calories expended in a one-mile walk may vary between 50 and 120 for individuals of the same weight.

Sure, there may be value in parents gaining some sense of caloric intake and needs. That’s a long way from the idea that counting calories will be central to maintaining a healthy body weight.