June 2011

Portion Size Always Counts

Putting less on the plate, described as portion control within the research community, is a proven strategy for reliably lowering caloric intake at mealtimes. Mealtime foods are generally eaten at a prescribed set-aside time and are dished up from serving bowls. Unlike mealtime foods, snack foods are eaten at random times while the snacker is often engrossed in another activity. More importantly, since many snack foods are eaten as individual items, snackers commonly estimate the amount of the snack they intend to eat by number of pieces rather than how large or small the actual serving is.

A recent, well-designed study compared the effect of adjusting the physical size of a snack food on caloric intake when study participants were preoccupied with a decision-based computer test. Participants were seated in individual cubicles where a dish containing either 20 pieces of whole uncut candy or 40 halved pieces of the same candy was placed beside the computer screen. Each bowl contained an identical weight of candy. Participants were instructed to eat as much or as little of the candy as desired during the 30-minute test and not to take any candy with them when they completed the test.

Participants served the halved portions of candy ate the same number of pieces as those eating the whole uncut candy. That is, participants served the halved portions of candy did not consume a greater number of candy pieces. Consequently, participants served the halved portions of candy ate half the amount and consumed nearly 60 fewer calories. Portion size still dominated caloric intake despite the differences in the age, weight, height, time spent exercising and pre-study hunger of the individual participants. No matter the portion size, participants used number of pieces as their gauge for the appropriate quantity to consume.

Significance: This study shows that reducing the serving size of a snack is as equally effective at lowering caloric intake as decreasing the portion size of mealtime foods. This study further confirms that small doable strategies make a difference.

Citation: “Smaller food item sizes of snack foods influence reduced portions and caloric intake in young adults.” D Marchiori, L Waroquier and O Klein. Journal American Dietetic Association, May 2011

See the abstract

Sugar Intake Declined But Obesity Increased

An analysis of the parallel changes in sugar (sucrose) consumption and obesity over the past 30 years in Australia was reported in a recent study. The analysis included systematic examinations of scientific articles, government publications and public health databases. The documented evidence showed that while Australians reduced their sugar consumption by 23 percent since 1980 obesity increased 300% over the same period. Australian obesity rates continued to rise even though consumption of diet and low-calorie beverages doubled between 1994 and 2006. The reported analysis also confirmed that the consumption of beet and cane sugar (sucrose) has decreased in both the United States (20 percent) and the United Kingdom (10 percent) since 1980. The term “Australian Paradox” was adopted to describe this contradiction.

Significance: This study shows that systematic efforts to reduce sugar intake is an ineffective public health strategy to reduce the prevalence of obesity. Emphasis on reducing a single dietary component, like sugar or any other food, ignores the complexities of obesity and slows resolution of its detrimental public health consequences.

Citation: “The Australian Paradox: A Substantial Decline in Sugars Intake over the Same Timeframe that Overweight and Obesity Have Increased.” AW Barclay and J Brand-Miller. Nutrients, April 2011

Read the study