Two-thirds unaware of calories needed to maintain a healthy weight
Almost two-thirds of people do not know how many calories the average person needs to maintain a healthy weight, according to new research commissioned by Diabetes UK, The British Heart Foundation and Tesco.
The YouGov survey of 2,025 people, commissioned to mark the launch of a new partnership between the three organisations that aims to improve the health of the nation, found that:
- Just 35% of respondents knew the average man needs to consume 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight;
- Only slightly more, 37%, could pinpoint 2,000 calories as the equivalent for women.
- Awareness is even lower among older people, with just a quarter of those aged 55 and over knowing this. (26 per cent knowing it for women, and 23% for men).
Energy balance – the balance between the number of calories you consume and use – is the cornerstone of weight management. But with 62% of UK adults currently overweight,  this confusion over the amount of calories we are eating and our lack of physical activity seen here highlights a need to focus on this basic principle.
The case for this is strengthened by further results from the survey, which asked respondents to identify the calorie content of some of the most popular meal choices  and day-to-day food items. For each item or meal, respondents answered how many calories they believe it to contain, the following shows the per cent that correctly identified the number of calories:
- One in three (33%) underestimated the calories in half a pint of semi skimmed milk (136 Kcals)
- 39% underestimated the calorie content of a meal of chicken tikka masala with rice, one of the most popular UK dishes (800 Kcals)
- 40% also underestimate the calories in the office workers’ favourite medium latte and blueberry muffin (620 Kcals)
A further concern raised by the research relates to physical activity, described as any activity at least as strenuous as a brisk walk. Almost half of us (49%) do less than the minimum recommended amount of 150 minutes per week, and 11% of people say they do not do any at all.
The British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and Tesco are highlighting the results, to drive awareness that failure to understand how many calories are consumed could lead to weight gain. They believe this lack of understanding is one of the factors fuelling the high obesity rate in the UK, which in turn is leading to the high rate of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions.
Over the next three years, the three organisations aim to raise £30 million, to be spent on a series of initiatives that will help people better understand how to lead a healthy lifestyle, with the ultimate ambition to make a positive change to the health of the nation.
As one of the first activities of the partnership, Tesco pharmacies around the country are offering free health checks for 40,000 individuals this January. This includes a blood pressure check, a cholesterol test, a Type 2 diabetes test and a BMI (weight) check and takes about 20 minutes.
Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said:
“It is worrying that most of us don’t understand how many calories we are consuming as a nation but also what a healthy calorie intake looks like. This lack of awareness is one of the root causes of the high obesity levels that are, in turn, driving the soaring rate of Type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.
“We need to take urgent action to help the public understand what a healthy diet looks like and this, together with wider changes to society to make healthy choices easier, can make a big difference in turning back the rising tide of obesity. This is why we are delighted to be launching this new partnership because, by combining the expertise of the two charities with the reach and scale of Tesco, we are confident we can make a really big difference.”
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation 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. We all must pay more notice to what and how much we are eating and drinking to maintain a healthy weight and heart.
“Half of us aren’t doing enough physical activity and this makes the situation much, much worse.
“Eating a balanced, healthy diet and doing regular physical activity are really important in reducing risk of becoming overweight and developing heart disease.”
Greg Sage, Community Director for Tesco said:
“Our customers tell us they want us to help them lead healthier lives, and today marks the start of a ground-breaking new partnership that will make a real difference to millions of lives right across the country. We’ve set an ambitious target of raising at least £30 million, which will be spent on a wide variety of projects over the next three years to reduce people’s risk of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes by eating healthier and better.”