Supersize Meals and Obesity

Supersizes, value meals and meal deals. As consumer demand for value grows, the food industry responded with the one thing guaranteed to meet customer expectations and boost sales: create bigger portions for less money.

Supersized portions have contributed more than we bargained for, suggests a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bigger portion sizes add significant calories to the American diet.

Authors Lisa Young, PhD, RD and Marion Nestle, PhD compared 2002 portion sizes of commonly eaten ready-to-eat convenience foods with original portion sizes offered at the time foods were introduced. Marketplace portion sizes, according to the study, are 2-8 times bigger than serving sizes used by the USDA for meal planning guidance.

Serving size differences between the marketplace and the USDA Food Guide:

  • Bagel: chain store 3.9-5.0 oz / USDA 2.0 oz
  • Roast beef sandwich filling: marketplace 3.9-7.9 oz / USDA 2.5 oz
  • Cooked pasta: marketplace 2.6-3.3 cups / USDA 0.5 cup

Portion sizes have increased 2-5 times greater than the original size introduced:

  • Hershey's chocolate bar: 0.6 oz in 1908 / 1.6 - 8.0 oz in 2002
  • Burger King Hamburger sandwich: 3.9 oz in 1954 / 4.4-12.6 oz in 2002
  • McDonald's soda: 7 fl oz in 1955 / 12-42 fl oz in 2002
  • Coca Cola bottle: 6.5 fl oz in 1916 / 8-34 fl oz in 2002

The Surgeon General announced a Call to Action for obesity prevention stresses the importance of portion control. With the trend of serving sizes growing to meet consumer demand, it appears that the obesity crisis will stay - at least until consumer demand changes.