Mitigating the Health Risks of Dining Out

The Need for Standardized Portion Sizes in Restaurants

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 104, no. 4, Commentary, Apr. 2014, p. 586-590

Posted on RAND.org on March 04, 2014

by Deborah Cohen, Mary T. Story

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Research Questions

  1. What would be the benefits of standardized portion sizes in restaurants?
  2. Would standardized sizes be acceptable to the public?
  3. How might such a system be implemented?

Because restaurants routinely serve food with more calories than people need, dining out represents a risk factor for overweight, obesity, and other diet-related chronic diseases. Most people lack the capacity to judge the caloric content of food and there is limited evidence that people make use of calorie-labeling information when it is available. Standardized portion sizes would not preclude people from eating as much as they want, but would make the amount they are getting fully transparent. We describe the potential benefits and means of implementing a system of standardized portion sizes that might facilitate a healthier diet among the US population.

Key Findings

  • Standardized portion sizes would help people clearly understand how much they are eating.
  • Reducing wasted food would save energy, benefiting the environment.
  • If implementation were coupled with an education program, individuals could see standardized portions as a helpful tool for managing food intake.

Research conducted by

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