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.
|Product||Portion Sizes Today||Serving Sizes 20 Year Ago|
|Cup of coffee||16 ounces coffee with 2% milk and mocha syrup, 350 calories||8 ounces with milk and sugar, 45 calories|
|Movie popcorn||11 cups, 630 calories||5 cups, 270 calories|
|Soda||12-ounce can, 145 calories, 20-ounce bottle 242 calories||8-ounce bottle, 97 calories|
|Two slices of pizza||850 calories||500 calories|
|Cheeseburger||590 calories||330 calories|
|Bagel||5-6 inch diameter, 350 calories||3 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.