Americans' consumption of sugar (sucrose) 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.
The poll-conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Sugar Association-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.
Despite the fact that is has decreased by 35 percent, 75 percent of those parents said they believe sugar consumption has increased in some way.
And that wasn't the only result inconsistent with reality.
"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.
An overwhelming number of parents with children under the age of 18 also overestimated the number of calories in a teaspoon of sugar. 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: There are only 15 calories in one teaspoon of sugar.
The survey also showed that 85 percent of parents believe that all-natural foods are better for you than those that contain artificial ingredients, and 86 percent believe that the type of sweetener used is at least somewhat important to them when deciding what foods and beverages to serve their kids.
Unfortunately, these same parents often find identifying these foods challenging, making them difficult to avoid. When asked which labels they used to help guide food purchases, only 45 percent said they looked at the ingredient statement, which is where they would be able to determine whether a food was made with natural vs. artificial ingredients and which type of sweetener was used.
These results are similar to those found in a previous survey, also conducted by Harris Interactive in 2010 on behalf of The Sugar Association, which showed that most parents of children under 18 in the United States try to avoid artificial sweeteners (52%), 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 four percent of those surveyed could identify the sweeteners used in the product, which included fructose, dextrose, sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Thirteen percent of those parents of children under 18 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."
The Sugar Association has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to follow Canada's lead and set food label guidance that clearly identifies which ingredients are artificial sweeteners and how much of each are found in a product.
"Parents have a right to know what they are feeding their families, and the current labeling standards aren't working," Briscoe added.
The petition has been pending with the FDA for eight years.
The 2013 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Sugar Association between June 25-27, 2013 among 2,074 Americans aged 18 and older, of whom 478 qualified as parents of children aged 17 years or younger. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
The 2010 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Sugar Association between January 6-12, 2010 among 1,268 parents of children aged 17 years or younger.