Americans Consume Food in Greater Portion Sizes

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The portion sizes of food consumed in the United States have grown significantly in the past 25 years—with the greatest increases measured for food eaten at fast-food establishments and in the home.

University of North Carolina researchers studied trends in U.S. food portion sizes between 1977 and 1998. They analyzed data from the Nation-wide Food Consumption Survey (1977-1978) and the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals (1989-1991, 1994-1996 and 1998), based on a sample of 63,380 persons ages 2 years and older.

The study evaluated the average portion size of specific food items as well as the portions consumed at various eating locations.

The researchers discovered that the largest food portions were consumed at fast-food establishments and the smallest at other restaurants.

“Between 1977 and 1996, food portion sizes increased both inside and outside the home for all categories [of food] except pizza,” the researchers report. They note that the portion size of specific foods increased as follows:

  • Soft drinks from 13.1 to 19.9 fl. oz.
  • Salty snacks from 1 to 1.6 oz.
  • Hamburgers from 5.7 to 7 oz.
  • French fries from 3.1 to 3.6 oz.
  • Mexican food from 6.3 to 8 oz.

—Journal of the American Medical Association, January 22/29, 2003

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