We’re All Lying About How Much We Eat

A social policy study released yesterday claims that Britons are consuming 30 to 50 percent more calories than the amount recorded in official statistics.
August 9, 2016, 3:45pm
Photo via Flickr user Kate Ter Haar

If no one saw you polish off half the packet of triple chocolate digestives, it didn't really happen. That 3 AM shish kebab on the back of the night bus? Drunk calories obviously don't count. And you don't have to worry about that pre-dinner, sharing bag of crisps if you worked up a sweat running for the bus this morning.

Think again. A a new report from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a UK social policy research company, suggests that the under-reporting of calorie consumption in national surveys (a.k.a. not admitting how many mini chocolate shortbreads you actually ate) is the reason we're all gaining weight.

READ MORE: It's Official—There Are More Obese People than Underweight People on Planet Earth

Published yesterday, the research suggests that Britons are consuming 30 to 50 percent more calories than the amount recorded in official statistics from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) and the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCFS). This adds up to an extra 1,000 calories per person, per day on top on the average of 2,000.

OK, so we may have forgotten about that second breakfast we had.

BIT researchers used data from the NDNS and the LCFS to point out that according official reported calorie consumption data, the amount we eat is supposedly declining.

Confusingly, given that there are now more obese people in the world than underweight people, the NDNS reports "a reduction in calorie consumption since it began in 2001, with average intake falling from 1972 calories in 2000 to 2001, to 1862 calories in 2011 to 2012."

The LCFS, which measures food purchased at shops and money spent at restaurants had similar findings. Its stats show "a consistent decline in the calories purchased over time, with estimates dropping to an average of 2192 calories per day in 2013." This adds up to a 6.8 percent decrease since 2000.

Using statistics from Health Survey for England, the BIT, however, argues that the average weight of a person in the UK has been rising every year for the last 20 years.

The report states: "The reported level of calorie consumption is too low to sustain our current weight even if we were only doing the minimum possible level of physical activity. In other words, if we were consuming this few calories, we would be losing weight as a nation, not gaining it."

Researchers at BIT point to several reasons why we fib about how much we eat, including an increase in snacking and the growing difference between reference data used to calculate calories and true portion sizes.

READ MORE: Your 'Healthy' Hummus Could Contain More Salt Than Four Bags of Chips

Campaigns like the NHS Change4Life programme and Couch to 5k running plans put emphasis on exercise as a way to combat obesity, but BIT hope their research will show that a reduction in calorie intake is just as important. The report states: "Although attempts to increase physical activity should be part of the policy mix for obesity, they should not act as a distraction from the central importance of reducing calorie consumption."

You can't fight science: throwing your best shapes on a Saturday night won't burn off the effects of a drunken lamb shish. And FYI, those hangover bacon sarnie calories do count.