NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

All-You-Can-Eat in America

July 25, 2003

It's no secret that obesity in the United States has skyrocketed in the past several decades. And while willpower and genetics obviously play a role in getting fat, recent studies have shown that environmental factors like portion size, price, advertising, availability of food and number of choices presented can influence how much an average person eats.

According to the New York Times:

  • Moviegoers who are given an extra-large tub of popcorn instead of a tub one size smaller will eat 45 to 50 percent more, even if the popcorn is stale.
  • Dropping the price of low-fat snacks by even a nickel increased sales.
  • Between the 1970s and 1990s, average portions of French fries, hamburgers and soda increased two to five times.
  • Diners at an Italian restaurant who were served a portion of ziti 50 percent larger than a regular portion ate 45 percent more and deemed the larger size a better value.

Restaurants, food manufacturers and convenience stores have all increased portion sizes of unhealthy foods, but many people still don't make the connection between larger portion sizes and more calories, says Dr. Marion Nestle of the nutrition and food policy department at NYU.

Interestingly, very young children don't seem to be as tempted as adults by larger quantities of food. Three-year-olds who were served three different amounts of macaroni and cheese for lunch on three different days ate the same amount each time.

Source: Erica Goode, "The Gorge-Yourself Environment," New York Times, July 22, 2003.

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