'Portion distortion' may contribute to expanding waistlines, study reports

des 50 additional calories and could equal a five pound weight gain over the course of one year if consumed on a daily basis. Participants in the present study served themselves nearly 20 percent more cornflakes and poured almost 30 percent more milk on their cereal than participants 20 years ago.

On average, less than 45 percent of portions selected at the breakfast meal were within 25 percent of the reference portion size. For the lunch and dinner meals, around 30 percent of portions were within 25 percent of the reference portion size. This strongly suggests that the amount of food thought to be appropriate to eat at one sitting is different than what the Nutrition Facts panel indicates to be a single serving size. "With portions being distorted to this degree, it's no surprise that people's waistlines are expanding." Byrd-Bredbenner remarked.

Nutrition Education May Serve Well

The good news is that efforts to educate the public to limit certain foods that add excess calories may have been successful. For example, the typical portion size of salad dressing was significantly smaller in the current study than typical portions selected in the study done 20 years ago. The message that even nutritious foods (e.g., tossed salad) can become less healthy when calorically dense items (e.g., salad dressing) are used excessively, may have become well understood over the past two decades.

Although the causes of obesity are multifactorial, the incidence of obesity has increased over the past two decades in parallel with increasing portion sizes, and Portion Distortion may be a contributing factor. "Our society wants the 'bang for our buck' and when portions are served to us that we think are small we feel short-changed," commented Schwartz. "But we need to start 'undistorting' what we perceive to be a typical portion and begin to listen to our stomachs, not our eyes, to determine when to put the fork down."


Contact: Michele Hujber
732-932-7000 x4204
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

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