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Factors Contributing to Obesity:
Growing Portion Sizes

Average portion sizes have grown substantially since the 1970s, changing people’s perception of a “normal” serving and contributing to a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity. Standard serving sizes of meals and beverages today range from a third larger to twice as large as they were 20 years ago. At home, the size of dishware — plates, bowls and glasses — has grown by as much as 36 percent since 1960, while recipe portion sizes featured in the Joy of Cooking rose by up to 42 percent between 1931 and 2006.39

Standard serving sizes of meals and beverages today range from a third LARGER to twice as large as they were 20 years ago.

Exhibit 8 shows how much portion sizes have increased.40 Twenty years ago, a cup of coffee held an average of 45 calories; today, a cup of coffee with mocha syrup represents 350 calories. An individual would have to walk one hour and twenty minutes to burn the extra calories consumed from just one serving. A cheeseburger contains an average of 257 more calories than it did 20 years ago. It would take one hour and 30 minutes of lifting weights to burn those extra calories.41

Making the right food choices can be difficult in these surroundings. Unhealthy foods are cheaper and more convenient and come in bigger serving sizes, while healthy foods can be more expensive, often require some preparation and are not always readily available.

Exhibit 8

Portion Sizes: 1982 and 2002

1982

140 calories
3-inch diameter

2002

350 calories
6-inch diameter

1982

500 calories

2002

850 calories

1982

210 calories
2.4 ounces

2002

610 calories
6.9 ounces

1982

333 calories

2002

590 calories

1982

500 calories
1 cup spaghetti
with sauce and
3 small meatballs

2002

1025 calories
2 cups spaghetti
with sauce and
3 large meatballs

1982

45 calories
8 ounces

2002

350 calories
16 ounces
with mocha syrup

Source: National Institutes of Health.

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