Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why the world needs Calories 101

Small wonder the world struggles with obesity.

The world is obscenely calorific. Calories are everywhere. Restaurant salads can have over 1,000. Kids' meals even more and with our supersized foodscape, almost nothing is safe.

So let's shift gears and talk money.

Let's pretend you got dropped into an exotic foreign country and while there were price tags on everything, you didn't know the exchange rate. Sure you might know that more was more expensive, but could you really be sure you weren't overspending?

Or how about if you got hired for a job but weren't told your salary. How would you budget your monthly expenditures?

Now back to calories.

In a survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation (a Big Food funded organization), only 12% of those surveyed knew how many calories they burned a day.

What that means of course is that Americans (and probably it's a finding that's true the world over) don't have a clue how many calories they need in a daytime, and so even though calories are posted on nutritional facts panels and in some jurisdictions even on menu boards, how are they going to do any good?

These results should serve to alert allied health professionals and public health officials that in the absence of an anchoring statement regarding how many calories a person needs, initiatives like mandatory menu labeling will fall deaf on ignorant ears.

What we really need are public health officials to provide us with a Calories 101 campaign (like the one in the photo up above from New York's forward thinking, "Read 'Em Before You Eat 'Em" campaign) because if people don't know how many they've got to spend in a day, how can they possibly be expected to navigate our increasingly obesogenic food environment?

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  1. Thanks for showing this. It's great to see that NYC gets it! In a simple ad campaign, NYC presents the problem.

    The only question this raises is: Will people choose the right answer?

    Based on my observational studies: I fear not.

    Ken Leebow

  2. Anonymous7:38 am

    So how DOES one know how many calories they burn in a day so that they can adjust their intake?

  3. One of the best energy requirement calculators I've found on the web is this one.

  4. Rhodia2:39 pm

    I've been steadily losing weight for 15 months (52 pounds lost so far!), and I don't know how many calories I burn or how many I eat. Yet I'm still losing weight. I consult a nutritionist who provides guidance.

    In the past I lost weight on my own by counting calories. I lost weight (70 pounds), but developed an obsessional way of thinking, and eventually binge eating disorder, requiring psychological treatment at an eating disorders clinic. Never again will I count calories.

    A few months ago I tried that tool on the Dietitians of Canada website. I entered my eating for 3 days and it said about 1800-2100 calories. I don't know if that's accurate, and I'm not really bothered about it. (I'm more bothered by the fact that it said my iron and vitamin D intake was a tad low.) I'm eating healthfully, getting lots of exercise, and the weight's going down.

  5. Nurse Ingrid5:23 pm

    Congrats to Rhodia on your success, but I have to say that my experience has been the exact opposite of yours. Calorie counting is the only method of weight loss that works for me. I too have lost about 50 pounds in the past year, slowly and sensibly. I don't bother with "fat grams" or "glycemic index" or any of that boring stuff. And I eat whatever I want: I just eat less of it. For me this has been incredibly freeing: I don't have to feel guilty about eating because it's already "budgeted." (Love the financial metaphor; I use it all the time!).
    Obviously if someone has a tendency toward eating disordered behaviors, other strategies might work better. And I am a believer in finding what works for you, which you obviously have. I just wanted to say that for me, calorie counting has worked really well. And for me it doesn't feel obsessive. I feel more relaxed and in control of food and weight that I ever have in my life.