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Regulating portion sizes of food
December 14, 2015, 12:49 pm

Obesity has risen globally over the past 30 years and no country has yet achieved a reduction. Countries have set goals for ending childhood obesity but often without the policies needed to make it happen.

The causes of obesity are complex, but overconsumption of food and sugary drinks is a key factor, driven in part by large portion sizes. A new report now suggests that reducing the size of large food portions, packaging and tableware could help in the fight against obesity.

Evidence shows that people consume more food or drinks when faced with larger size portions or packages, and when using larger items of tableware.

The new research showed that eliminating larger portions completely could significantly reduce daily energy.

Policy changes needed to reduce the size, availability and appeal of large food and drink portions include:

• Reducing serving sizes of high-calorie food and drink, such as the standard single serving of candies, fries and cakes
• Reducing availability of larger portion and package sizes, for example, by removing the largest serving size
• Restricting pricing practices that enable larger portion and package sizes to cost less in relative terms than smaller sizes, and restricting price promotions on larger portion and package sizes
• Highlighting single portion sizes in packaging
• Restricting portion and package sizes in advertisements
• Making smaller tableware the norm for self-service and served foods and drinks, including plates, cups and glasses
• Designing tableware to encourage smaller mouthfuls, such as shallow plates, straight-sided glasses and smaller cutlery
• Pricing tableware in relation to size

The authors note that sizes of portions, packages and tableware have grown over the past 50 years and need to shrink back to the sizes popular during the 1960s. They also suggest a 50 percent reduction in size of food and drinks that are high in energy.

The researchers say that since the food industry could find it hard to make the first move, a combination of regulatory and non-regulatory measures to recalibrate portions, and help set up a ‘virtuous circle’, may be in order.

Regulations would be easier to enforce in public sector organizations, such as schools, hospitals, military bases and prisons than in industry, so agreements could be voluntary but reinforced by ‘disincentives or sanctions for nonparticipation’.

Studies have already indicated that people would be willing to accept smaller portion sizes. In a recent survey 33 percent of those invited to halve the size of a starchy side dish accepted, whether or not there was a discount.

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