Linkedin Twitter Facebook Email Our Blog
Join our mailing list

Archive for September, 2015

Size Matters! Simple Strategies to Overcome Portion Distortion

Below is my post for Huffington Post, Size Matters! 10 simple strategies to overcome portion distortion.

You can also read it HERE.

I’ve been convinced for years that oversize food portions are one of the leading contributors to obesity.

When results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a federal survey assessing the health of Americans, were released back in the mid-1990s with the scary statistic that the average American adult gained 8 pounds, I immediately suspected that it was due, at least in part, to growing food portions. However, back then, virtually no one was talking about portion sizes, at least as it related to obesity.

So I decided to conduct my doctoral dissertation exploring U.S. portion sizes and trace the history of food portions. Indeed, my research found that American food portions began to explode in the 1980s continuing through the 1990s and into the present. This increase in portion sizes parallels rising obesity rates, and is a perfectly logical explanation to explain rising obesity rates in the U.S.

Now, 20 years later, a comprehensive report from researchers at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU), University of Cambridge, analyzed results of over 60 studies involving more than 6,700 participants and found that larger portions and oversize tableware contribute to overeating. The study, published on Sept. 14, 2015, in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that people consumed more food and drink when given bigger portions, plates, or silverware. And they ate more food regardless of if they were thin or overweight, male or female, hungry or not hungry.

We know that eating too much can lead to obesity, which increases our risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

As a long-time portion size researcher and educator, I believe that if we can make changes to our environment to reduce the availability and appeal of large portions and practice portion-control strategies on an individual level, we can make great strides to reduce obesity.

The University of Cambridge researchers concluded that efforts to reduce portion sizes could reduce caloric intake by up to 29 percent and (527 calories a day) among U.S. adults and up to 16 percent among U.K. adults. That is pretty significant and can make a huge difference in helping us all slim down!

As written in the University of Cambridge news release: “Our findings highlight the important role of environmental influences on food consumption. Helping people to avoid ‘overserving’ themselves or others with larger portions of food or drink by reducing their size, availability and appeal in shops, restaurants and in the home, is likely to be a good way of helping lots of people to reduce their risk of overeating,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Gareth Hollands, a behavior and health researcher at the University of Cambridge.

“There has also been a tendency to portray personal characteristics like being overweight or a lack of self-control as the main reason people overeat,” Dr. Hollands added.

The study suggests that legislation, price incentives, and marketing strategies may be needed to help bring about significant reductions in our food portions. As I wrotehere, I couldn’t agree more.

In the meantime, here are some simple things you can do to combat portion distortion.

1. Purchase single-serving portions.

2. Eat off of your grandmother’s dishes. They are sure to be smaller than your current plates.

3. Use smaller glasses and utensils too.

4. Avoid serving food family-style. Plate out your portion in the kitchen. If you are still hungry, you can get up for more.

5. Fill up half of your plate with nutritious fruits and vegetables. No one got fat eating too many carrots or berries.

6. When eating out, share an entrée with your dinner companion. Order an extra salad or vegetable side dish.

7. Wrap up leftovers. They make a great accessory.

8. Steer clear of all-you-can eat meals and deals. Resist the bargain. And remember, volume does not mean value!

9. Eat mindfully–sitting down, without distractions such as watching TV and talking on the phone. And do not straight out of the container.

10. And, finally, wherever you are, eat slowly and enjoy your company.

For more strategies to avoid oversize portions, I offer tips here and here.

We would love to hear your tricks on how to overcome oversize portions.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

Share |

Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

You can also read it HERE.

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with Michelle Obama announced an overhaul to the nutrition facts label required on all packaged foods. Among the proposed changes includes updating the serving sizes.

As FDA states, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

The food labels have not been revised in over 20 years, and the current serving sizes are based on portions typically consumed in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller–often much smaller–than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and research articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

In a previous piece I wrote for Huffington Post, while I commended the FDA for using more realistic serving sizes, I also offered a note of caution: in particular, that FDA is not telling consumers to actually eat more.

“For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories. This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat…. It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.”

While there are clearly benefits to FDA requiring that manufacturers use more realistic serving sizes, a new study, published in the journal Appetite, addresses some potential problems with larger serving sizes. The study explores how consumers interpret the new serving sizes, and how they affect the amount of food they would serve themselves.

In one of several experiments, the researchers showed subjects two different labels for mini chocolate chip cookies–the current label which states 3 cookies as a serving and the proposed new label which lists 6 cookies as a serving. The subjects exposed to the proposed label served themselves significantly more cookies than those exposed to the current label.

Results of all four experiments found that people misinterpret serving size information. The majority of subjects believe that the serving size on a food label refers to how much they should eat. The researchers also found that the increased serving sizes on the proposed Nutrition Facts label can lead people eat more and purchase more food.

Uh oh! This is troubling, especially in a society where many of us already eat too much.

The researchers write, “We found that people misinterpret serving size information, with the vast majority of consumers incorrectly believing that the serving size refers to how much can/should be consumed.”

Lead author Steven Dallas, a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Stern School of Business wrote me the following in an email message: “Our research shows that the increased serving sizes of the proposed label lead consumers to serve more food for themselves and others. Since excessive consumption is a key contributor to obesity, this is a worrisome effect of the proposed label.”

Results of this study confirm that consumers may incorrectly view serving sizes as recommendations. Hopefully, FDA will take these findings into account when finalizing its serving-size rulings for the new food labels.

The authors conclude in their paper, “FDA should be encouraged to consider ways to correct this misinterpretation, such as by mandating the addition of a serving size definition to the proposed Nutrition Facts label. The definition could inform consumers that the serving size refers to how much of the product a typical person consumes in one sitting, and does not refer to how much of the product can be healthily consumed in one sitting.”

I agree!

In my comments last year to FDA on the proposed serving-size change, I suggest that FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations. I wrote, ” I recognize that the RACCs used to calculate serving sizes are required to be based on the amount of food people customarily consume, and are not recommended amounts of food to eat. However, given the likelihood of confusion among some consumers, I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on the new proposed serving sizes.

Share |
Visit our Blog lisa.young@nyu.edu © 2017 Dr. Lisa Young