Supersize me: Our Portion Sizes are getting bigger
Your average slice of cake today is so much bigger than it was two decades ago that it has 1000 more kilojoules in it.
Portion sizes of pizza, processed meats, cereal bars, ice cream and wine also increased up to 66 per cent, according to new research by the George Institute of Global Health and the Heart Foundation.
While both men and women, young and old are eating more junk foods, the researchers found serves of ice-cream eaten by women had increased in size by nearly a third while men consumed more sausages and wine.
On the flip size, typical portion sizes for pastries, snack food and potato fries decreased in kilojoules by up to 40 per cent, while chocolate, biscuits, beer and soft drink portions stayed steady.
“The Australian Health Survey found one third of Australian’s energy intake comes from these [discretionary] foods so we wanted to look at how portion size contribute to the excess energy intake,” said Dr Miaobing Zheng, of The George Institute for Global Health.
In 1995, 5.4 million Australian adults were overweight or obese. In 2014-15, this figure hiked to 11.2 million.
The obesity epidemic we are facing, which has a huge array of health and quality of life consequences, is a complex problem.
Such dramatic increases in portion sizes are at least partly to blame, says Zheng, particularly given many people are confused about how much is too much.
“The Australian Dietary Guidelines tell people how many serves of discretionary foods you can have in a day – that is defined as two to three servings of 600 kilojoules a day but it is really hard for people to understand what 600 kj are – for a pizza, that’s tiny,” says Zheng. “It’s maybe the size of your palm. At the moment the guidelines for these portion sizes are very vague.”
As far as the discrepancies in portion sizes go, Zheng believes this may be because takeaway and fast-food outlets increase servings to reflect the belief that “bigger portions are better value”.
We are, of course, paying with our waists and our health.
“For example, muffins – now the size has become huge,” Zheng says. On the other hand, the size of pre-packaged foods, like biscuits and soft drinks, have stayed much the same and we tend to consume what we are given – if we are served a big slice of cake or pizza, we will eat it; if we buy a soft drink that is a standard size, we will drink it.
“For fries, if you go to McDonald’s or KFC they provide more choices – you can get a smaller size or upgrade to a bigger size,” Zheng says, in an effort to explain why fry consumption may have decreased. “If you go to a pizza outlet, portions are all quite big.”
She adds that it’s more more likely for people to underreport how many fries they’ve eaten. “It’s easier to describe a big piece of cake.”
Zheng and her colleagues also looked at whether energy density in the foods had changed between 1995 and 2012 but found that they had remained the same – we are simply eating bigger portions of discretionary foods and we are eating them more often.
Our food supply has been hijacked by junk foods and the drivers are those in the food industry making a motza from selling cheap-to-produce, nutrient-poor “foods” that we’re spending more than half our food budget on.
This new research, the first of its kind in Australia, will help experts to design some policies to target the increased portion sizes.
“Targeting the food manufacturers is one of the strategies. So takeaway food and fast-food outlets – asking them to reduce their portion size or to offer more portion sizes, so people can go for the smaller option,” Zheng says.
She adds that we need guidance to better understand what portion sizes look like, but to be aware that the portions we’re being served are up to five times more than what they used to be.
“The message is the portion size has increased and it has an effect on the overall prevalence of obesity in Australia,” Zheng says. “Consumers have to be very cautious when choosing these foods.
“They are not only energy-dense, they are nutrient poor, so they are really bad for our health, not only for obesity.”
This article was originally published in The Age.
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