Brits are fat because they can’t do simple sums – with three-in-four adults unable to work out how much sugar they’re meant to eat, a study shows.
Poor maths skills are letting people down in understanding dietary guidelines – with women twice as bad as men.
The discovery could help explain why one-in-four adults in the UK are obese – putting Britain on course to be Europe’s fattest nation by 2025.
At the same time numeracy skills are among the worst in the developed world with one study showing the UK languished 21st out of 24 countries.
Too many struggle to calculate the numbers behind information on food labels, a YouGov poll of 2,000 people commissioned by the charity National Numeracy found.
Shown a chocolate bar label setting out the amount of sugars both in grams and as a percentage of the total daily allowance – known as the daily reference intake – only 26 percent gave the correct answer to six options.
Half gave wrong replies with the other 24 percent declining to make any estimate – saying they didn’t know.
There was a marked gender gap with 36 percent of men but only 18 percent of women giving the right answer. The question tested numeracy skills at roughly GCSE-level.
Six-in-ten respondents rated their maths as excellent or good and 72 percent did not feel it was holding them back.
But over a third (36%) said they would like to improve with the most popular reason being in order to manage their money better.
Almost a third (33%) who had studied for a Maths GCSE or similar qualification felt it had not helped them manage money while 36 percent said it had not prepared them for understanding their health, food and diet.
Over a fifth (22%) of those in work complained it had not prepared them well for their current job.
But seven-in-ten said they would feel embarrassed to tell someone they were no good at reading and writing compared to only 58% saying the same of numbers and maths.
Professor Gill Rowlands, of Newcastle University, said: “People need to be able to understand and use numbers to make decisions about their health.
“The finding only one in every four people could understand the sugar information in a nutrition label is particularly important given current World Health Organisation warnings on the rising levels of obesity and diabetes.
“We need to raise awareness of the importance of health literacy, including numeracy skills, amongst the public, education providers and health services, and work together to improve numeracy skills for health.”
People in London were most likely (66%) to rate their maths and numeracy as excellent
or good and those in the East of England the least likely (50%).
Londoners were also most likely (31%) to correctly calculate the daily reference intake for sugars followed by people in the North of England (29%).
Those in Wales were least likely (18%), with people in Scotland and Northern Ireland (both 21%) also scoring near the low end.
Mike Ellicock, chief executive of National Numeracy, said: “The maths you need for everyday life isn’t particularly complicated.
“But you do need to be able to apply it in all sorts of ordinary situations whether that’s looking after your health, understanding food labels or working out the best deals in
“Good numeracy skills are clearly necessary for managing health and diet and yet – as this survey suggests – too many people aren’t confident with the numbers. But there really is help out there for people to brush up their skills.
“The National Numeracy Challenge builds the practical maths skills and confidence needed for all aspects of life – including understanding sugar consumption.”
The National Numeracy Challenge is a web-based service to boost the numeracy skills of adults and young people. It offers assessment, confidence building and learning routes, followed by re-assessment to show progress and has been used by over 76,000 people since it was introduced two years ago.