Fueling Obesity: We're Given More - So We Eat More

Health Writer

If you buy family-size packages of chips or cookies, you are more likely to consume more than a reasonable portion size. You will probably keep dipping your hand in the bag or reach into the plastic cookie tray and eat…and eat…and eat some more.

A new Cochrane review finds that when people are offered larger-size portions or when they use larger table ware items, they are likely to eat or drink more. The study suggests that if all we did was reduce larger-size portions from the diet, it could completely reduce energy intake (feedings) by 16 percent among UK adults or by 29 percent among U.S. adults.

Research has repeatedly identified overeating as a significant contributor to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. But how much does “serving large” contribute to the problem? The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews revealed the extent to which this and other specific feeding variables contribute to over-eating.

Researchers at the Behavior and Health Research Unit captured data from 61 studies, involving over 6711 participants, looking at the impact of portion size, package size, and tableware size, on the amount of food that subjects ate.

The data found that people will consume more food and drink more when they are offered larger portions, whole packages or when they use large plates or utensils (serving utensils and personal utensils). Just reducing portions sizes, limiting package sizes. For example: Using single serve packaging, or using smaller serving utensils spoons and forks could reduce the amount of calories consumed by adults in the UK, by as much as 279 kcals per day. The change would reduce adult U.S. daily food consumption, on average, by about 527 kcals per day. That could translate to a loss of one pound a week.

The research did not find any variation based on gender – men and women showed similar behaviors and would experience similar calorie deficits. A person's BMI, susceptibility to hunger, or specific feeding behaviors also didn't make a big difference. That was pretty surprising to the researchers. After all, you might think that someone who is seriously overweight would simply spoon more onto their plate or have a second round of food, if you limit size of tableware or just serve them a single portion. This data seems to suggest that changing the environment can change the behaviors, organically.

This research suggests that “not over-serving food and drink” can play a big role in helping to mitigate obesity. What the review does not address are nuances of the findings. Sure if you reduce big size portions to smaller, individual-size portions, you will likely help people to gain control of how much they eat or whether or not they will lose weight over the short term.

But what if you try and reduce slightly larger portions to single portions? Or, will someone accept these reduced portions and utensil changes over the long haul, for a sustained period of time?


The researchers suggest that we can take this data and use it meaningfully to start a process of food consumption reduction, in those who need it. They recommend:

  • Put upper limits to food manufacturers on serving sizes of energy dense foods like desserts, fatty foods, and sugary drinks. (Use these measures in home-cooking and when serving alcohol and sugary drinks at home, too.)

  • Mark single size portions clearly on all food and drink packaging (A large bottle could have markings like measuring cups along its length to encourage portion limits.)

  • Use smaller serving spoons and personal cutlery at restaurants, fast food locations and at home.

  • Use smaller bags so sandwiches and entrees-to-go are made smaller and use smaller plates.

  • Make food packaging blander and less colorful. You are lured by colors and sexy advertising.

  • Stop pricing that makes “buy more” equal to “save more money.”

  • Use price promotions and coupon savings for smaller size food and beverage items.

I would also recommend taking it further, and making portion size information on packages available in highlighted larger print. However, I believe that embracing these changes still involves willpower to some degree.

You are going to be hungrier if you eat less, at least initially, so you have to exert some measure of control. Willpower, like muscles, needs to be worked on constantly so it becomes stronger. Slowing down the pace of your eating, drinking water first, and identifying emotional hunger and cravings from true hunger are all important variables that play into managing or reducing obesity risk.

Source: Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews

           [Medical News Today](http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/299452.php?tw)

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