Monday, January 24

Drastic changes in the size of food packages lead to overeating, according to a new report

The food industry has had an excessive growth that undoubtedly has had serious consequences on general health. Not surprisingly, according to information released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Since 1999 obesity rates in the United States increased exponentially from 30.5% to 42.4% in 2018. Additionally, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that as of 2018, 74% of American adults were considered overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk of developing chronic diseases. And of course, this has had consequences in different aspects. Unsurprisingly, a recent report published in the American Journal of Public Health, found the relationship between rising obesity rates in parallel with the increase in size of packaged foods and fast food items in the United States. To be more specific: between two and five times the size of the normal serving sizes above when they were originally introduced. Today, many products have not changed since the 2002 recommendations, with packaging still five times larger than before.

According to statements by Lisa Young, who is the principal investigator of the report that led the American Journal of Public Health: “Larger packaged servings lead to overeating because people pay little attention to their portion sizes and focus instead on what they eat.” Furthermore, research also shows that we eat more when we are presented with more food, even if we are not hungry and we do not love that type of food.

The original report was published the first week of December by Young and Marion Nestle, focuses on talking about the consequences of larger portions for ultra-processed foods. And it calls for policies and practices that encourage proper portion sizes to be in place. The study states that “current US policies support the production of larger portions through subsidies of basic ingredients that promote overproduction and low prices.” Finally, heFoods in the United States are relatively cheap compared to manufacturing and serving costs, and larger portions can generate additional income at low cost. To consumers, large portions may seem like a bargain, but they contain more calories and encourage excessive intake.

There are strong examples to put this in perspective: while a large Coke from Burger King in the UK contains 262 calories, in the United States the serving is large enough to consume 510 calories.

Most worryingly, larger serving sizes negatively affect the health of low-income communities. This is not the first time that Young or Nestlé have presented their research and advocated for policy change. Together, they previously released reports, including one in 2002, in which they noted an increase in market food portion sizes that exceed federal standards, even though physical activity remains the same. Also, their 2003 report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that the lack of portion changes could easily be related to the increased prevalence of overweight Americans.

And yet, while previous versions of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have labeled obesity as “The greatest threat to public health in this century”, Young and Nestlé note the lack of changes in serving sizes served in restaurants and packaged foods in their 2012 American Journal of Preventive Medicine report. According to Young: “It is important to focus on what we eat along with how much we eat. Both are just as important for good health.”

In the recent report, Socioeconomic factors associated with weight gain are also mentioned, which is generally observed in communities of poverty, inadequate education, racial and gender discrimination, unemployment and lack of medical attention. It is undeniable to say that the frequent consumption of these foods occurs within these communities that suffer from lack of resources, low income and food deserts. Which has made it a major public health problem. According to the researchers and experts who participated in the report: reducing the size of the servings served could be a “useful strategy to improve public health.”

The Young and Nestlé report refers to an article published in the BMJ stating that 60% of the calories consumed between 2007 and 2012 came from ultra-processed foods. The consumption rates of these foods decreased when comparing age and income level, as well as the consumption of communities with lower levels of education.

To conclude their report, Young and Nestlé establish solutions that include price incentives to sell smaller portions of ultra-processed foods, discontinue larger sizes and even restrict the marketing of large portions. Especially around children and minorities. However, since the policies remain the same, Young suggests some ways that you can initiate these practices to ensure better health for all.

The first is to buy single-serving items. Instead of opening a large bag of potato chips, open a small one that is for one person. While we can eat ‘multiple servings’ from a large bag of potato chips, we are unlikely to open a ton of small bags. A good tip, for those who for budget reasons should buy a large bag, is to divide it into smaller portions to eat later.

The second suggestion is to integrate more fruits and vegetables in your meals. The main reason is that they are very rich in fiber foods that provide a lot of satiety and it is much easier not to overeat when satisfied. The recommendation is to focus on the positive nutrients and antioxidants, finally no one got fat from eating too many carrots or celery. Best of all, for those who don’t have fresh food available, they can go for the frozen fruit and vegetable versions. Low-sodium cans of vegetables can also help provide a nutritious side to meals.

Use measuring cups when cooking at home. Although it is not necessary to weigh everything we eat, there are some foods that are convenient for example when serving cereal, place a one-cup serving in a measuring cup instead of pouring the cereal directly into a large bowl.

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