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UNC study confirms that food portion sizes increased in U.S. over two decades

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL -- Between 1977 and 1996, portion sizes for key food groups grew markedly in the United States, not only at fast-food restaurants but also in homes and at conventional restaurants, a new study shows.

The observation is one more indication of broad changes in the way Americans eat and another reason for the widespread, unhealthy rise in obesity among U.S. children and adults, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers say. It is believed to be the first documentation that at any given meal, on average, the typical American eats more than he or she did only a few decades ago.

A report on the findings appears in Wednesday's issue (Jan. 22) of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Authors are doctoral student Samara Joy Nielsen and Dr. Barry M. Popkin, professor of nutrition at the UNC schools of public health and medicine and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center.

"Many people have thought that portion sizes might be on the rise, but until now, there have been no empirical data to document actual increases," Nielsen said. "We think this is important information not only because it documents this trend, but also because obesity presents a growing health threat both in the United States and abroad."

The research involved analyzing nationally representative data from the 1977-78 Nationwide Food Consumption Survey and three separate Continuing Surveys of Food Intake by Individuals. The sample consisted of 63,380 people ages 2 and older.

Nielsen and Popkin calculated the average amounts of specific foods eaten in both calories and ounces at home, in restaurants and in fast-food restaurants for each survey year.

"Portion sizes varied by food source, with the largest being consumed at fast-food establishments and the smallest at restaurants," she said. "Between 1977 and 1996, portion sizes increased for salty snacks, desserts, soft drinks, fruit drinks, French fries, hamburger
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Contact: David Williamson
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
21-Jan-2003


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