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US: Sugar becomes new bogeyman as fats take a back seat in new consumer survey

Asked ‘What source of calories are most likely to cause weight gain?’ (from a choice of ‘carbs’, ‘sugars’, ‘fats’, ‘protein’, ‘all sources are equal’, and ‘not sure’), 20% of consumers in the 2012 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Food & Health survey selected ‘sugars’ – compared with only 11% in 2011.

There was also a sharp rise in the number selecting carbs as the source of calories most likely to cause weight gain (19% in 2012 compared with just 9% in 2011).

Meanwhile, there was a corresponding drop (from 40% in 2011 to 30% in 2012) in consumers selecting ‘all sources are equal’ – that is, believing (correctly), that what matters in terms of weight gain, at least, is ‘calories in calories out’ rather than the source of the calories in question.

Did ‘toxic sugar’ headlines impact findings?

By contrast, while the percentage selecting ‘fats’ as the source of calories most likely to cause weight gain rose slightly from 14% in 2011 to 18% in 2012, it still remains much lower than in previous years (2006-10), when it hovered between 26% and 34%.

The percentage of consumers claiming to avoid/limit saturated fats has also fallen, dropping to 47% in 2012 compared with 56% in 2011 and 64% in 2010, as media attention has shifted from fat back to sugar as the “villain of the piece”, said IFIC senior vp nutrition and food safety Marianne Smith Edge.

It was also significant that the 2012 survey – conducted by Mathew Greenwald & Associates for IFIC – took place in early April, immediately after the ‘Is Sugar Toxic’ episode of 60 Minutes aired, she observed.

High fructose corn syrup data has not changed

Interestingly, said Smith-Edge, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), for once, does not seem to have suffered as concerns about sugar’s role in weight gain have increased, with 44% of those polled in 2012 claiming to try to avoid/limit HFCS intakes, exactly the same percentage as in 2011….. 

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