Most adults don’t know how many calories they should consume each day to maintain their current weight, but that may not be a bad thing.
That’s because knowing one’s calorie needs may be a double-edged sword, says Cassie Rowe, who worked on a new survey as a graduate student at the University of Florida and is now a study coordinator at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“On one hand, it may allow people to balance energy intake with physical activity to manage their weight,” Rowe says. “On the other hand, I think most Americans get bogged down by the numbers. In this respect, knowing your calorie needs may lead to unnecessary stress surrounding counting calories.”
Calorie postings on restaurant menu boards were an impetus for the study, Rowe says. “Do people even know what they mean?”
For the study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers surveyed 978 people of varying heights and weights from a cross-section of demographic groups, mostly from the University of Florida campus. The survey found that people of all body mass indexes underestimate their daily energy requirements.
For the survey, respondents answered 10 questions, including height, weight, and level of exercise. Based on those answers, researchers calculated how many daily calories the respondents needed, says Lauren Headrick, who worked on the research and was the paper’s lead author.
“What was so interesting in our study is people underestimated their needs across the board, showing a clear lack of knowledge surrounding calories,” Headrick says.
On the nutrition facts panel of all food labels, the standard is 2,000 calories a day, although an individual’s needs may be different, depending on their age, size, and exercise habits.
Dietians say if people learn their actual caloric needs are higher than they think, they might be tempted to eat more.
In the survey, most people who need 2,000 calories a day, said they should only consume 1,500. People who are obese underestimate their caloric needs the most, Langkamp-Henken says.
“If they underestimate how much they need, it’s probably because they’ve tried dieting in the past and gotten discouraged and realize it takes a whole lot of restriction of your intake to lose some weight.”
Source: University of Florida