Portion sizes only half

Published 6:36 am Wednesday, July 26, 2006

By By Carolyn Bivins
I found this article very interesting and thought I would share it with you. It addresses another issue in the epidemic of obesity in America.
No doubt about it, large portion sizes contribute to obesity, but they should not be viewed as the smoking gun any more than high fructose corn syrup or other factors, says one nutritionist.
"American obesity is the result of a dense web of causes and simply can't be attributed to any one source," says Dr. Robert Keith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System nutritionist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and food science.
"Does high fructose corn syrup in drinks cause obesity? Not entirely. Do larger portion sizes cause obesity? Yes, in part, though not entirely."
The bottom line, Keith says, is that Americans simply are consuming too many calories, which is why their first priority should be finding ways to reduce their overall caloric intake. Granted, reducing serving sizes would go a long way toward making us thinner, Keith says.
As a basic rule, Keith recommends thinking in terms of small rather than large portion servings. Salads light on dressing and small sandwiches are far better nutritional choices than burgers, fries and high-calorie sodas. Nevertheless, if you can't overcome the occasional craving for junk food, opt for a regular-sized or kid-sized meal instead of the super-sized servings.
Likewise, if you insist on larger burger sizes, remove mayonnaise and cheese, Keith says. That will reduce the number of calories by as many as many as 200.
As far as beverages, Keith says we would be better off ordering water or unsweetened tea rather than the usual sugary soft drink.
"Americans need to be creative with their food choices," Keith says. "They need to be concentrating on how they can get all of their meals in smaller serving sizes."
Data show that Americans have their work cut out for them. Sixty-four percent of Americans are considered to be overweight, while 30 percent are obese. Health authorities also have noted a rising tide of obesity among the nation's youth.
Fifteen percent of 6 to 9 year olds are overweight, twice as many as twenty years ago.
Small wonder why: Keith notes that Americans now consume at least 300 more calories a day than they did a quarter-century ago. Serving sizes also correlate closely with the sharp rise in obesity rates, reflected in the dizzying array of super-sized menus available at restaurants.
"Fast-food restaurant drinks that used to be only 8 ounces are now typically around 24 ounces," he says. "There are also roughly 100 more calories in hamburgers than there were 25 years ago."
Part of the problem, he says, can be attributed to the huge increase in disposable income that first occurred in the 1950s, when Americans had extra money to spend on things other than essentials. It's a trend reflected in the amount of money Americans now spend eating out. About 46 percent of the average American's food budget is spent on food consumed away from home.
Federal and state health authorities, as well as public watchdog groups, have taken notice. A United States Food and Drug Administration-funded report, for example, recommends the following changes for restaurant food:

  • Reduce serving sizes.
  • Serve dishes with fewer calories.
  • Market these healthier choices.
  • Provide consumers with information about the calories associated with each meal.
    Carolyn F. Bivins is the Regional Extension Agent. Her office is located in Brewton.

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