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Few Americans accurately monitor calories

USA Today, May 5, 2011

Calories may count, but most people aren't counting them.

Only 9% of people in the USA can accurately estimate the number of calories they should eat in a day, and 9% keep track of their calories every day.

People have plenty of excuses for not tracking: They say it's extremely difficult, and they lack the interest, knowledge and focus. Some say they're not convinced that it matters all that much.

These are among the findings of a nationally representative online survey of 1,000 people, conducted for the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation.

"We want consumers to move from calorie confusion to calorie confidence," says Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, a registered dietitian with the foundation, which is an education group supported by the food, beverage and agricultural industries. "Calories are a valuable tool for weight management."

Research shows that people who keep track of calories lose twice as much weight as those who don't.

Calorie requirements are unique to each person, and how many you need depends on your gender, age, height and physical activity level.

Adult calorie requirements vary from about 1,400 to 1,600 a day for a small sedentary woman, 2,000 to 2,200 for a sedentary man, about 3,000 for a teenage boy going through a growth spurt and 4,000 or more calories a day for a highly trained endurance athlete, says Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian in Bradley Beach, N.J., who has worked with thousands of people to help them lose weight.

Keeping track is the crux of controlling your weight, Flipse says. "I believe it's important that everybody knows their number," she says. "If your number is 1,600, and you are about to sit down to a hamburger platter that is 1,200 calories, then you are getting perilously close to your limit for the day. Knowing your number gives you perspective."

Just like you consider the price of something before you buy it, you have to consider the calories in a food before you eat it, she says. "You have to figure out if you can afford it."

Other findings from the foundation's survey:

  • When it comes to deciding which foods and beverages to buy, people rank their priorities in this order: taste, price, healthfulness.
  • At restaurants, taste and price are the top priority.
  • About half of people say they are very or somewhat concerned about their sodium intake.