US Obesity epidemic

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socio eco epiIncrease in Portion Sizes in the United States

A study compared current portions of food products in the United States with past portions, concluding that the sizes of current marketplace foods almost universally exceed those offered in the past. The trend toward larger portion sizes in the United States began in the 1970s, and portion sizes increased sharply in the 1980s and have continued to increase. Study results show that, except for sliced white bread, all of the commonly available food portions exceeded the US Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration standard portions, sometimes to a great extent. For example, the largest excess over US Department of Agriculture standards by 700 percent occurred in the cookie category, while cooked pasta, muffins, steaks, and bagels exceeded standards by 480 percent, 333 percent, 224 percent, and 195 percent, respectively. For french fries, hamburgers, and soda, the current portion sizes are 2–5 times larger than in the past (78). The influence of growing portion size on people’s energy intake is magnified by the fact that more people in the United States increasingly eat meals away from home more often than they did in the past (73).

Dietary intake data collected from individuals also support a marked trend toward larger portion sizes in the United States. Based on nationally representative data collected between 1977 and 1996, a study reported that the portion sizes of food consumed both at home and outside the home had increased for a large number of foods. Some of the increases were substantial, very often ranging between 50 kcal and 150 kcal per item for commonly consumed food items such as salty snacks, soft drinks, hamburgers, french fries, and Mexican food. The potential impact of larger portion sizes on people’s overconsumption of energy and weight gain can be remarkable. For example, an added 10 kcal per day of extra calories can result in an extra pound (0.45 kg) of weight gained per year (75).


Epidemiologic Reviews by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health All rights reserved; printed in U.S.A.