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Portion sizes

U.S. restaurants super-size food portions to please customers, study finds

Monday, October 23, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: portion sizes, restaurant food, overeating


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(NewsTarget) The majority of U.S. restaurant chefs cook meals that are two to four times larger than the government's recommended serving sizes, according to a study presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society in Boston.

Researchers from Penn State University and Clemson University in South Carolina conducted a survey of 300 chefs attending a number of national culinary meetings, and found that nearly all believed the amount of food they served customers at their restaurants influenced how much people ate.

Only 17 percent of the chefs surveyed described their portions as large or extra large -- with 76 percent claiming their portions are "regular"-sized. However, according to market research firm NPD, a typical restaurant meal contains at least 60 percent more calories than a homemade meal, and Americans ate roughly 209 restaurant meals per person last year.

Sixty percent of chefs said they serve steaks that are 12 ounces or larger, though the government's dietary guidelines define a serving of meat as three cooked ounces. While the government definition of a serving of pasta is a half cup, most restaurants dish up one to two cups. The researchers found that the only food served up in small portions tended to be vegetables.

While older chefs tended toward serving smaller portions, younger chefs were more prone to serving overly large portions, which Penn State researcher Julie Flood attributed to modern restaurant training.

"The older chefs were trained a couple of decades ago when portions were smaller," Flood said. "The younger ones grew up at a time when the cultural norms were bigger servings."

Fifty-eight percent of chefs believe diners are responsible for eating an appropriate amount of food, despite the portion size of the meal they order, while 86 percent of chefs said their customers would notice if their meal size was decreased by 25 percent.

"Portions didn't get this big overnight, so we need to scale back slowly -- 10 percent to 15 percent at a time would be progress," said New York University nutrition professor Lisa Young. "And we need to change customer expectations."

Consumer health advocate Mike Adams, author of "The Food Timing Diet," said a single typical U.S. restaurant meal would feed an entire South American family.

"People tend to eat what's put in front of them, regardless of the portion size," Adams said. "In this way, restaurants are actually encouraging customers to overeat."

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