Portion Sizes Around the World

More than 1/3 of Americans are obese, according to the CDC, which is most likely due to our sedentary lifestyles, high-calorie foods, and large portions. Obesity is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide.

Part of the problem is diet, but also a huge part of the problem in America is portion sizes. We did some comparative research on portion sizes around the world. How do our serving sizes compare with those around the world? And where they always that big?

Serving Sizes Then vs. Now

Our portions are large, but they weren’t always that way. The average fast food restaurant meal is 4 times larger than it was in the 1950’s. However, that’s not the only thing that has changed. A 1996 and 2004 Cornell study proved that people eat more when they receive bigger portions.

Most stores now carry the 20-ounce bottles which contain 2.5 servings of soda. Fast food portion sizes are two to five times larger than they were when first introduced. If you eat pizza twice a month, the extra 350 calories per serving can gain you two pounds each year.

Back then there weren’t too many beverage size options; today there are many. For example a bagel today counts for three servings, even though most of us would consider it as one.

ProductPortion Sizes TodayServing Sizes 20 Year Ago
Cup of coffee16 ounces coffee with 2% milk and mocha syrup, 350 calories8 ounces with milk and sugar, 45 calories
Movie popcorn11 cups, 630 calories5 cups, 270 calories
Soda12-ounce can, 145 calories, 20-ounce bottle 242 calories8-ounce bottle, 97 calories
Two slices of pizza850 calories500 calories
Cheeseburger590 calories330 calories
Bagel5-6 inch diameter, 350 calories3 inch diameter, 140 calories

Food Portion Around the World Compared

Researchers weighed and compared portions from 11 similar eateries in Paris and Philadelphia. The average Paris portion size was 1/4 smaller than in Philadelphia. Compared to Paris, Philadelphia sizes were:

  • Chinese food, 72% larger
  • Candy bar, 41% larger
  • Soft drink, 52% larger
  • Hot Dog, 63% larger
  • Yogurt, 82% larger

Other Interesting Facts About Our Serving Sizes

  • A quesadilla from Mexico made with chicken and cheese in a 5-inch tortilla contains about 540 calories. In the U.S. quesadillas are made with 10-inch tortillas, doubling the number of calories.
  • In Japan the term ‘American Size’ refers to how everything is bigger in the U.S. Japanese portions are traditionally small, because people don’t want to waste food.
  • Portion sizes in the U.S. don’t only exceed those in less-developed countries, but in the developed world too.
  • Foods that Americans have adopted from foreign countries, like croissants and bagels, are two to three times larger than their original size.
  • One report revealed that a group of Tarahumara Indians from Mexico gained nearly 10 pounds within five weeks of adopting the typical American diet.
  • A study at Florida International University found that young Asian adults who had come from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea gained five pounds soon after they arrived.

How to Cut Back

Learn the difference between portion size and serving size by visiting Myplate.gov. Try to eat more at home, where you can control your portion size. When eating out, pack up half to take home before you start eating. If you decide to go for fast food, order from the children’s menu so you receive smaller portions.

Original infographic via insurancequotes.org in 2012, content updated October 2021.

Portion sizes around the world

3 thoughts on “Portion Sizes Around the World”

  1. What a great infographic. Kind of scary too when you consider the ‘super-size me’ attitude. More is not better when it comes to food and in particular fast food.

  2. The childrens menu is a very good idea- I think too with the larger portions we in the US dont like waste so we eat it :/


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