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Are You Eating 50% More Than You Think?

Photographed by Eva Salvi.
If you’ve ever used a food-tracking app – or waited while a mate tediously “logs” their calories – you’ll know how easy it is to lie about the extra doughnut or cocktail (OK, three) you consumed last night.

Well, you’re not alone – it seems we’re a nation in denial. Britons are under-reporting how many calories they’re eating, in some cases by up to 50%, according to a new study. This has potentially misled policymakers trying to curb obesity, the BBC reported.

Many national surveys say the average adult consumes roughly 2,000 calories, but new research, by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), points to scientific and economic data showing it could actually be closer to 3,000 calories.

The researchers wanted to find out why obesity levels in the UK had been rising, despite official statistics showing calorie intake has declined in recent decades.

They said the discrepancy could be caused by people under-reporting what they’re eating. There are many possible reasons for this including: snacks and meals outside the home being difficult to track, people being more likely to lie about their eating habits if they want to lose weight, and fewer people taking part in the surveys overall.

Self-reported surveys have a tendency to be inaccurate, and statisticians working for the government say they'll change the way they collect calorie data, the BBC reported.

The researchers concluded that policymakers trying to cut obesity should focus on encouraging people to reduce their calorie consumption, rather than promoting exercise.

Lead researcher Michael Hallsworth, director of health at the BIT, said: "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,” the BBC reported.

"Physical activity is good for your health and heart but reducing calories is a more effective strategy to combat obesity."

In 2014, 58% of women and 65% of men in England were overweight or obese, according to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The UK is known as the “fat man of Europe” for its obesity rate, which has more than trebled in the last 30 years. Perhaps it's time for the junk food industry to take some responsibility.