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Many consumers do not understand calories, finds study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 10-Dec-2010

Many parents lack understanding of calories and some may think that they are a nutrition fad, according to new research from the Dietary Guidelines Alliance.

Balancing calories in with calories out has been a recurring message to consumers from health and nutrition professionals – as well as the food industry. However, this latest research found that only 14 percent of parents claim to consistently pay attention to how many calories their family consumes. And only nine percent said it would be the easiest thing for their family to do on a regular basis.

The Dietary Guidelines Alliance is a public-private coalition of health, nutrition, government and food industry organizations with the stated aim of providing practical advice on how to apply the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in consumers’ daily lives. Its three-phase research project took a representative sample of the population based on the US Census and included ethnographic research, focus groups and a quantitative message-testing web survey focused on topics similar to the areas of focus in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, the alliance said.

Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president of Nutrition and Food Safety at the International Food Information Council Foundation, a Dietary Guidelines Alliance member organization, said: “Parents will soon hear lots more about managing calories from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to various food labeling initiatives. This research helps us identify where gaps exist in communicating effective messages on dietary guidance to consumers.”

The research found that of five behaviors that could be used to improve families’ diets, monitoring calories was ranked as the least likely to make a difference, with only 52 percent agreeing that paying attention to calories is important.

On the other hand, 82 percent agreed that more frequently serving nutrient-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy was important for making their family’s diet healthier.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) thought balancing the amount of food and beverages consumed with amount of physical activity could have a positive impact on their family’s health; 69 percent agreed that paying attention to portion sizes could help; and 67 percent said that better management of higher-calorie food and beverage choices was important.

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