From Penn State
Megaportions: What's a body to do? Although increasing evidence points to megaportions of high fat, high calorie foods as fueling the spread of the American obesity epidemic, simply telling people to eat less won't reverse the trend, says Penn State hunger and satiety researcher, Dr. Barbara Rolls.
Rolls, who holds the Guthrie Chair of Nutrition in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development, has conducted several studies to examine the effects of portion size on intake. The results show that megaportions subtly encourage overeating. She argues that researchers, the food and restaurant industry and policy makers will have to be innovative in developing strategies to persuade consumers, who are used to big portions, to get back in touch with their real needs.
In an article, "The Supersizing of America," in the current (March/April) issue of Nutrition Today, Rolls reviews the literature on the effects of portion size and maps out broad approaches for urgent action.
MARKETING – Rolls argues that since food and restaurant industries use state-of-the-art marketing strategies to convince consumers that foods meet their desires and lifestyles, public policy makers must provide equally sophisticated and well-funded counterstrategies. Such approaches should use marketing and psychological techniques to present the long-term health benefits of eating appropriate portions of lower fat, lower calorie foods.
FOOD LABELS – Recommended serving sizes are often unrelated to the amount of food available in a package. For example, a package might contain two-and-a-quarter servings – tempting the cook to serve the extra calories to two people instead of saving the leftover amount. Rolls maintains that the information on Nutrition Facts labels should be more prominent, easily understood and related to the package contents.
POINT-OF-PURCHASE DATA – When eating out, nutritional information is often difficult to obtain. Rolls says that we need a better understanding of how best to convey information about portion size, calories and fat to consumers at the point-of-purchase.
INCENTIVES – Rolls suggests rewarding companies that provide foods in reasonable portions. Part of this strategy could be to encourage the availability of a greater range of portion sizes and initiatives to make smaller portions more appealing.
CHILD TRAINING – Eating habits are hard to change. So, helping kids to develop good food habits is worthwhile. Rolls says parents need clear guidelines on appropriate portions for children and information on how to maintain eating behaviors that match energy needs.
MODIFIED FOOD – Rolls maintains that reducing fat and adding water-rich vegetables significantly reduce the calories per ounce of popular foods, such as burgers and sandwiches. Consumers could eat their usual portions of these less energy-dense foods but take in fewer calories. However, she notes, some consumers will perceive any move toward calorie or fat reduction as being associated with a loss of palatability. "This will be just one of the many challenges the food industry will face when attempting to maintain its profits while reducing the energy density of foods and keeping them tasty and reasonably priced."
Rolls' research is supported by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.