Growing portion (and body!) size

In the past 30 years the obesity rates have risen sharply, which not surprisingly coincides with constant increases in the portion size of food and have become more common when eating away from home.  According to statistics the larger portion trend started in the 70s, and dramatically increased in the 80s only to keep growing in the future. Portion sizes at fast food chains have increased between two to five times since they were first introduced, a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy explains.

 When McDonalds’ first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 45g; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 228g, an increase of 500 percent. And while a Big Mac used to be considered big, it’s on the smaller side of many burger options. In the same way at Burger King, you can get the Triple Whopper.

eating big burguer

 The causes

Larger portion sizes have become a selling point for food companies, and it’s a strong appeal to customers. Supersize portions are not exclusive to burger chains anymore; restaurants and even diet meals manufacturers make and enthusiastically promote larger meals. The pressure increases and we end up feeling that if we don’t get a huge portion we are not getting good value for our money. Identical recipes in old and new editions of classic cookbooks indicate fewer servings now, which can suggest that the portion size has increased.

 The consequences

While weight gain depends on multiple factors, the main one is an excessive energy intake over a much longer  period of time. Physical activity patterns have shown no significant change in the last two decades, therefore we have to point out the increased calorie intake as the responsible factor in the rise of obesity in individuals.

If you have a hard time leaving food on your plate – remember that there are two ways to waste food: You can throw it out or carry it around as fat cells” (Portion Distortion: Serving Sizes are Growing- Naval Medical Center San Diego)

So what´s a ‘normal’ size?

What a normal serving size is supposed to be? It’s hard to say since our perception of a “normal” portion has been distorted by the large and cheap meals we are constantly offered. Even when we can control our meal size, like when cooking at home, we eat larger portions. The reason is probably the “portion distortion” that changed the perception of what a normal size is based on our repetitive experience of eating great amounts away from home.

In the mid-1950s, McDonalds’ offered only 1 size of french fries; that size is now considered “Small” and  is one third the weight of the largest size available in 2001. Today’s “Large” weighs the same as the 1998 “Supersize,” and the 2001 “Supersize” weighs nearly 28 grams more. Since 1999, a McDonalds’ “Supersize” soda is nearly one third larger than the “Large.” (Lisa R. Young and Marion Nestle- The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic)

You could almost say we’re seeing double each decade food sizes seem to increase, which interestingly has proven to affect the way we treat food. Portion control is hard but if we think of the body as a thing to nurture it isn’t difficult to choose better health options. If you become more aware of those super-sized meals and those beefy big servings you’re already taking steps to   a better and more healthier you.


Lisa R. Young and Marion Nestle- The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic

Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Research to Practice Series No. 2: Portion Size.Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006.


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