Nutrition-wise blog

The new (ab)normal — Are bigger portions the norm?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. May 30, 2012

The average restaurant meal today is more than four times larger than in the 1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which created a graphic to drive home the changes. Check it out at

The graphic and the quiz that goes with it call attention to the massive increase in restaurant portion sizes since the 1950s — and the corresponding increase in average adult weight.

Here are some examples of how serving sizes have changed since the 1950s:

  • Then: The average burger sandwich was 3.9 ounces. Now: A burger sandwich is 12 ounces. (I'm not even going to comment on the toppings and sauces.)
  • Then: The size for fries was 2.4 ounces. Now: The size is 6.7 ounces.
  • Then: Soda came in a 7-ounce cup. Now: The average soda is 42 ounces. (If this is a sugar-sweetened cola, calories have gone from about 90 to 530!)

According to the CDC, the average woman has increased her weight by 24.5 pounds and the average man has added 28 pounds since 1960. We know that obesity effects about 35 percent of adults and about 17 percent of children 2 to 19 years of age.

What I find amazing is that in spite of the backlash created by the 2004 documentary "Super Size Me," we continue to have a tug-of-war over portion sizes. Are restaurants responding to consumer demand for larger portions? Or have restaurants prompted the demand by offering more?

Many restaurants are offering smaller portions (in addition to larger ones). Consumers still have the power of the purse — and choice. What's happening? Given what's at stake — our health and the health of our children — shouldn't we figure this out?

What are your thoughts? Are you willing to accept the new (ab)normal as the norm? I hope not.

- Jennifer

May 30, 2012