Portion Sizes Caloric Intake and Obesity

Scientists have begun to trace the link between portion sizes and increased obesity in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1971 and 2000 American women increased the number of calories they consumed by 22 percent (from 1,542 to 1,877 per day), while men increased their intake by 7 percent (from 2,450 to 2,618 calories). Government recommendations, by contrast, are a mere 1,600 calories a day for women and 2,200 a day for men. Many of the additional calories consumed have come from carbohydrates, which has led some scientists to theorize that an increased emphasis on reducing saturated fat in diets led people to believe they could consume all the carbohydrates they wanted. Moreover, many more meals are now consumed outside the home, and serving sizes at national restaurant chains have become two to five times larger than they were in the 1970s. Cookbook publishers have followed suit by increasing portion sizes in recipes. During the thirty-year period covered by the study, obesity rates doubled, and two-thirds of Americans are now considered overweight.

—Paula Kepos


Historical Events

Food Trends of the Time


  • Mothers returning to the home after the war effort
  • Postwar baby boom
  • Construction of the national highway system
  • Packaged meals available
  • First TV dinner (Swanson), 1953
  • Rise of hamburger chains along highways; Oscar Mayer



  • Growing middle class with money to spend
  • Growing social unrest over the Vietnam War in late


  • Introduction of Julia Child's French cooking
  • quot;Hippies" bring back demand for unprocessed, made-

from-scratch foods

- Vegetarian trend starts


  • End of Vietnam War
  • Watergate scandal
  • Growing inflation
  • Major influx of Asians due to Immigration Act of 1965

- Continued demand for organic and fresh: "California


  • Elaborate dinner parties with ethnic dishes
  • Growing appetite for Asian cuisine


- Stock market plummet of 1987

  • quot;Nouvelle Cuisine" is the thing du jour-diners willing to pay more to eat less
  • Return to simplicity in late 1980s
  • Exploration of different tastes (e.g., TexMex, Ethiopian,



- Introduction of the Internet puts foods at consumers fingertips

  • Everything reduced-fat, low-fat, fat-free
  • Naturally healthy cuisines (Mediterranean)
  • New movement toward simplicity
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