The availability of large food portions may be an important contributor in promoting excessive calorie intake. Of course this impacts on the likelihood of developing excess body weight and obesity related diseases including 13 types of cancer. 

The movie Supersize me highlighted the issues in mega style especially the marketing methods by fast food chains, but large has now become normal in many catering and retail environments and I suspect the supersize has got even bigger! 

Guidance on food portions for consumers has been published by the industry funded British Nutrition Foundation so that we can all read the correct amounts to select by translating the pictures/weights/handful information. Other nudge approaches to reduce portion size include recommendations to use smaller plate size. Some reviews have indicated this might be a useful approach but a recent paper has shown no significant difference in calories between different size of plates (a measly 19kcals difference) and provides further evidence on why these approaches only go a very small way to changing our food (and drink) intake.

Time to think again about multi-level approaches that take account of social, cultural and economic levers to assist reduced overall food intake. Last month Food Standards Scotland gave very clear recommendations for changing the foodscape of our dietary choices when we eat out of the home. Once considered a “treat” Scots now make 960 million visits to retail or catering outlets for snacks and meals spending around £4.5 bn a year. The average person visits eats out around 4 times a week. Balancing calorie intake is an art… eating too little at lunch time and experiencing that ravenous feeling at the end of the day, leading to the vending machine, local shop, office biscuit tin or the tall, grandi or venti cappuccino. One NHS website suggests we divide our daily calorie intake to have 600 kcals at each of our main meals. It would be great if the food industry could help the consumer with this in mind, making sure meals deals and meal options stayed below the 600 calories and guaranteed one whole portion of unprocessed veg and one whole portion of fruit and very little added sugar?. That would certainly help many folks who struggle with a) identifying the weight per portion b) adding up the calorie values for each components. 

As for snack selections…. Watch out for the large milky options which can be more than generous. For example; Starbucks venti oat vanilla milk latte will provide 438 calories!!! Go for the smallest option, and the calories reduce significantly (162 for the short). As for choosing a small snack… a look at any railway catering trolley will show you that something with less than 100 calories is as rare as hens teeth. Keeping tabs on calorie intake is a lot of work for the busy consumer, and much more work for those with poorer numeracy and literacy skills. If only the choices we were presented with were dominated by small to medium portion sizes and that big size disappeared… (please!?) 

Professor Annie S. Anderson 

Images: Author’s own and Unsplash