Portion Sizes Eventually Lead to Weight Gain (cont.)

She explains that by adding relatively small amounts of foods that are high in water content and fiber to standard dishes, people can still eat a satisfying volume of food but ultimately take in fewer calories.

Surprisingly, many people don't realize that larger portions mean more calories, Nestle tells WebMD. "Everybody laughs when I say that, but I swear to you that it's not intuitively obvious. There's something about a container or a serving or an amount that's put in front of you that doesn't get computed as larger or smaller or anything like that. Even when the package sizes are lined up; people don't think of them as having more calories."

She applauds the FDA's suggestion to change labeling on food packages to list the entire amount of calories in, say, a 20-ounce bottle of soda, typically sold in school vending machines. "That is 110 calories per serving with two-and-a-half servings in the bottle, and so the proposed label is instead of having 110 calories, to have 275 calories on the label. It's very shocking to look at it, even for somebody like me. Certainly soft drinks aren't shared, ever, and one of the things that school's complain about is that kids carry the bottles around with them all day," Nestle says.

Lichtenstein suggests that if food were labeled by the amount of calories per dollar, people might also have incentive to think about how much they're eating. "From what I understand, it doesn't cost the food marketer that much to increase the actual portion because there's a fixed overhead cost and fixed packaging costs, and that the real cost is in the initial providing of the food, which is why when you buy a big box of something it's cheaper per pound than a small box of something. That economic incentive is going to be there."

Published March 22, 2004.

SOURCES: Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, professor, nutrition science and policy, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston. Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor and chair, department of nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health, New York University. Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor of nutrition, Penn State University, University Park, Pa. Young LR and Nestle M. American Journal of Public Health, February 2002; pp 246-249. McDonald's Corporation. FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

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