Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2003 Volume 13, Number 6
©2002 Gürze Books
As you reach for that cookie at the convenience store counter, would you suspect that it is more than seven times the size of the USDA Food Pyramid standard portion, or that the delicious muffin also at your fingertips is more than three times the size of one standard portion? Typical portions of pasta exceed USDA standards by 480%.
In the good old days, foods such as soft drinks and chocolate were available in just one size—a size smaller than or similar to the smallest size available today. As two researchers from New York University found, in fast food restaurants today’s servings of hamburgers, fries and soft drinks are two to five times larger than original sizes. In the 1950s, for example, McDonalds served just one size order of French fries—one equal to today’s “small.”
“Supersizing” is relatively recent phenomenon, according to nutritionists Lisa R. Young and Marion Nestle (Am J Public Health 2002;92:246). In fact, their recent study shows that portions of fast foods and other foods have zoomed up in size since the 1970s. Young and Nestle gathered food samples from the most popular fast-food, family-type, and take-out restaurants, collected information from food package labels or food manufacturers and even studied old cookbooks and menus to track changing portion sizes.
According to the researchers, auto manufacturers used to install smaller drink holders in cars and even muffin pans were smaller than those of today. Portion sizes began to increase in the 1970s, rose sharply in the 1980s, and have continued to grow, along with body weights. Today’s “Large” order of McDonald’s fries weighs the same as 1998’s “Supersize.” Between 1998 and 2001, the “Supersize” drink got even bigger—the drink is now an ounce larger.
Frivolous lawsuits bloom
A New York City law firm recently filed a class action suit against McDonald’s Corporation on behalf of city children who have “suffered health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity” after regularly eating at McDonalds restaurants. The class-action suit by attorney Samuel Hirsch in a federal court in Manhattan is one of four cases now filed against McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants, which blame the fast-food corporations for increased obesity among children. Two other cases have been dismissed and another one is dormant.
The current case, which seeks unspecified damages, was brought on behalf of overweight children who ate at two McDonald’s located in the Bronx. One of the plaintiffs is a 14-year-old girl who is 4’10” and weighs 170 lb. The plaintiffs charge that McDonald’s failed to warn customers about the possible health effects caused by their foods. McDonald’s has replied that many nutrition professionals say that McDonald’s foods can be part of a healthy diet, based on consumers using balance, variety and moderation.
A change in portion sizes sought
The two nutritionists hope to use all their data to bring about changes in portion sizing, including unification of Government standard sizes so the public can better understand what they are getting. They also urge public health efforts to educate the American public about the links between size, calorie intake, and weight gain.