British people are under-reporting how many calories they eat each day by 50 per cent, a new study has found.
Adults are eating 3,000 calories per day as opposed to the 2,000 they think they are consuming, according to researchers from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT).
This extra intake could explain why obesity rates are increasing, which are significantly linked to rising type 2 diabetes rates, despite many surveys having found people are eating less.
Surveys including the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and the Living Costs and Food Survey suggest that people are buying and eating less food in recent years, but obesity rates in the UK remain the second highest in Europe.
Researchers analysed economic and scientific data to determine the reason behind the weight gain, concluding that people may be misreporting their calories due to a number of reasons.
These could include inaccurate reporting due to a desire to lose weight, fewer people taking part in surveys or because snacks are harder to track.
The BIT suggests that policymakers trying to curb obesity should focus more on reducing calorie intake than promoting exercise.
Lead researcher Michael Hallsworth, director of health at the BIT, told the BBC: “Anyone who has been on a treadmill will know what it feels like to look down and see you have burned far fewer calories than you expected.
“Physical activity is good for your health and heart but reducing calories is a more effective strategy to combat obesity.”
Public health expert Prof Alan Maryon-Davis said the report “will send a shudder through the junk-food industry”, adding that “up until now they’ve been able to point to what was thought to be a decline in the nation’s calorie intake and say there’s really no need for tougher measures like a sugar tax, fat tax or calorie-labelling on alcoholic drinks”.
“But this latest analysis rather pulls the rug from under their feet.”

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