Scientists Say You Have No Idea How Much Sugar You Eat

According to new research from the University of Reading, Brits consume up to 50 percent more sugar than they report on diet questionnaires.

by Daisy Meager
20 July 2017, 1:03pm

Photo via Flickr user Jim Maes.

No one needs to know about the bar of Dairy Milk you got through last night if the only witness to the chocolate binge was Netflix. Sure, you had a generous slice of Sharon-from-marketing's birthday cake at work, but free food is different. And that half tub of Phish Food on Sunday morning? Hangover snacks don't really count ...

Or do they? New research from the University of Reading suggests that *forgetting* how many Hobnobs you eat at your desk every afternoon could part of the reason the population is gaining weight.

It's not exactly groundbreaking news that the report, which was published in the Plos One journal yesterday, found that a high-sugar diet was linked to obesity. But what's more interesting, is the extent to which its participants under-reported the amount of sugar they consumed. By calculating sugar consumption from urine samples, the researchers found that sugar intake was up to 50 percent higher than in studies that use diet questionnaires to track consumption. Bottom line: those hangover calories do count.

While past studies have found similar results, the Reading research measures individual sugar levels, rather than relying on overall population weight gain as a marker of under-reporting. The research compared findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which calculates sugar intake with self-reported food diary questionnaires, with the urine samples from a nationally representative group of 498 participants aged 19 to 64-years-old. On average, women reported eating 78 grams of sugar a day, compared to 117 grams actually consumed. Men reported consuming 107 grams when in reality, their sugar consumption totalled 162 grams per day.

MUNCHIES reached out to Dr Gunter Kuhnle, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Reading and co-author of the study, to find out why people tend to under-report the amount they eat. He told us: "This is a difficult question to answer and a lot of work is being done to find out why and how people under-report food. The most likely explanation is that people under-report snacks and foods they consume only occasionally, and these are in many cases sugary foods. Overall, people tend to under-report their energy intake, and the degree of under-reporting increases with the amount of energy consumed."

He continued: "I think the main outcome of the study is to show that we shouldn't rely on questionnaires only. With the current campaign to reduce (and to some extent demonise) sugar, people might be less willing to admit that they consume sugary snacks even though they do."

Just one more digestive won't hurt, though.

University of Reading