Global Trends 2020

Sweet delusions – why our perceptions of sugar consumption matter

We all know that eating right is an important part of a healthy lifestyle – globally, 80% of us think that, of all the things we can do to maintain good health, eating right is the most important.

But in every country in our study, except China, people believe that the majority of their fellow countrymen and women eat more sugar than the recommended daily limit. Australia, Britain and South Africa top the list, believing that nearly three quarters of people (72%) in their country eat too much sugar.

While we may think that the majority is eating too much sugar, we are of course less likely to view ourselves as part of this over-consuming majority. In every country we surveyed, the number of people admitting to eating more than the recommended daily limit of 50g of sugar was less than the percentage of the population they estimated was doing it. In some countries the difference was significant – the French believe that 64% were eating too much sugar, but only 36% admitted to doing it themselves – a difference of 28 points! Indonesia,
Britain and Argentina were not far behind.

But does it matter that we think the rest of the country is consuming more sugar than us? Yes. As Robert Cialdini’s work shows,44 we are very much influenced by social norms, so what we think everyone else is doing matters. We are more likely to have that sugary drink if we think that not only everyone else is too, but actually they are having many more.

Just like with fake news, perception is often more important than reality.

Hannah Shrimpton
Research Manager, Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute | @IpsosMORI

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