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Americans' consumption of sugar has decreased by 35 percent in the past 42 years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but the results of a recent poll show that most parents believe just the opposite.
Conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Sugar Association, the poll asked 478 parents of children under the age of 18 how they thought sugar consumption in the United States has changed over the past 40 years. And, despite the 35 percent decrease, 75 percent of those parents said they believe sugar consumption has increased in some way.
"The confusion about food—what to eat and what not to eat—is constantly fueled by extremists who sensationalize each and every new piece of research and distort the facts about sugar for the sake of a story or to hype a new book," said Andrew Briscoe, CEO of The Sugar Association.
The majority of parents surveyed also overestimated the number of calories in a teaspoon of sugar. In fact, 71 percent believe that there are 20 or more calories in one teaspoon, and almost 30 percent believe the caloric value is upwards of 100. Only 7 percent answered correctly, estimating 15 calories per one teaspoon.
Approximately 85 percent of parents believe that all-natural foods are healthier than those that contain artificial ingredients, and 86 percent stated that the type of sweetener used is at least somewhat important to them when deciding what foods and beverages to serve their kids.
When asked which labels they used to help guide food purchases, only 45 percent said they looked at the ingredient statement, where they can determine whether a food was made with natural versus artificial ingredients and which type of sweetener was used.
These results are similar to Harris Interactive’s 2010 survey, which showed that most parents try to avoid artificial sweeteners (52 percent), but were unable to identify common chemical sweeteners used by food manufacturers.
When shown the ingredient label from a common drink given to dehydrated infants in the 2010 poll, only 4 percent of those surveyed could identify the sweeteners used in the product, which included fructose, dextrose, sucralose and acesulfame potassium. And 13 percent of those parents couldn't identify a single one.
"Food labels are there to help consumers make informed choices," Briscoe said. "If the ingredient section looks like a laundry list of unknown elements, consumers aren't going to bother reading it. Parents have a right to know what they are feeding their families. And the current labeling standards aren't working."