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IFIC Foundation Consumer Insights Published in Nutrition Today

November 13, 2013

Article discusses confusion and communication challenges around calories and energy balance.

What does “energy balance” mean to your mother, brother, sister, friends? Terms that health professionals use may not be understood by those who most need to know what to do to improve their health.

The article, “Confusion on All Sides of the Calorie Equation: Lessons Learned, Future Directions,” co-authored by Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, the IFIC Foundation’s senior vice president of nutrition and food safety, tackles the topic of calories and calorie balance communications. It appears in the September/October 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition Today.

Many policy and educational efforts are aimed at helping consumers achieve calorie balance, but insights from the International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food & Health Survey that are included in the article confirm that a “calorie disconnect” still exists. Consumers remain largely unaware of personal calorie needs or the relationship between calories and weight management.

The article notes that to effectively communicate calorie, or energy balance, it is essential for health professionals to consider consumers’ understanding of those concepts and terms. For instance, few consumers connect the term “energy balance” with calories, often equating it instead with a state of “feeling energetic.”

“The goal is clear: we must continue to make efforts to understand consumers and to meet them at their point of need, if consumers are to adopt a healthful lifestyle and ultimately reverse the obesity epidemic, said Smith Edge. “However, the messages and actions needed to reach that goal are not as clear.”

The article includes recommendations from an expert roundtable on energy and calorie balance hosted by the International Food Information Council, where outcomes revealed that consumers need personalized messages and customized goal-setting based on their individual needs. It advocates familiarizing consumers with their personal “daily calorie number,” or the amount of calories needed to maintain weight, based on their “unique weight management profile.”

The article highlights efforts by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, and others to help consumers determine and track their calorie needs and to promote healthy weight.  But despite those examples of progress, the article concludes by arguing that “all sectors of society must be engaged in helping consumers make healthful choices to meet dietary and physical activity guidance goals and achieve sustained behavior change to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

Topics addressed in the article include:

• Exploring Consumers’ Perceptions;
• Barriers to Tracking Calories Consumed and Burned;
• Putting Prominence on Calorie Labeling;
• Expert Perspectives on Best Practices to Help Consumers Achieve Calorie Balance; and
• Implications and Future Directions.

In addition to Smith Edge, the article’s co-authors are Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RD, formerly with the IFIC Foundation, and currently senior manager, public affairs, Monsanto Co.; Christina DiMarco-Crook, MS, U.S. Department of Agriculture fellow and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; James Hill, Ph.D., executive director, Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, University of Colorado, Aurora; and Cheryl Toner, MS, RDN, president, CDT Consulting, LLC.
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