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Larger Portions May Lead Children To Overeat

By Alfredo Flores
July 16, 2003

Preschool children generally took bigger bites and consumed more food when served super-sized portions of their normal entrees, according to a research study at the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston, Texas. But when these same children were offered smaller portions, they ate less than when served the super-sized portions.

The CNRC is operated by Baylor College of Medicine in cooperation with Texas Children's Hospital and the Agricultural Research Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Jennifer Fisher, assistant professor of pediatrics at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, led the six-month nutrition study with co-investigators Barbara Rolls and Leann Birch, both nutrition researchers at Penn State University in University Park.

In the study, two series of lunches were served to 30 preschool children, aged three to five, in central Pennsylvania in 2000. One series offered an age-appropriate portion of a macaroni-and-cheese entree; the other, a portion twice as large. The researchers found that, overall, the children ate about 25 percent more of the entree when they were served the larger portion, and their overall calorie intake at lunch was 15 percent higher.

Fisher and her colleagues noted that the capacity of large portion sizes to encourage overeating among young children is alarming, given the growing problem of obesity in children. The findings imply that minimizing children's exposure to excessive portions may reduce overeating.

The study was published in the May 2003 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.