Subtle Cues and Dish Size Affect Portions

Subtle Cues and Dish Size Affect Portions
It is no secret that portion sizes have expanded along with Americans’ waistlines. Restaurants and super-sizing options are frequently blamed, but we are also guilty of serving ourselves too much food. A study conducted by researchers at Cornell University found that our tendency to over serve ourselves is influenced by the size of dishes and utensils.

The researchers hosted an ice cream social and invited 85 faculty, staff, and graduate students from a university nutrition department. Thus, these “study participants” could safely be assumed to be nutrition savvy. Researchers randomly gave the participants a small or large bowl and a small or large serving spoon, and everyone served themselves. The researchers weighed their ice cream as participants filled out a survey about how much they believed they served themselves.

Those who were given a larger bowl ate 31 percent more than those who received the smaller bowl. Despite this significantly larger serving size, they did not perceive that they served themselves more than other participants. Similarly, participants using the larger serving spoon gave themselves 14.5 percent more ice cream, regardless of whether they had a large or small bowl. Perhaps not surprisingly, participants who were given both a large bowl and a large spoon ate the most ice cream—56.8 percent more than people with a small bowl and spoon.

Researchers described the sizes of bowls and spoons as “consumption cues” that influence serving size. They pointed out that these cues are so subtle and common that even nutrition experts fall prey to their effect. However, they also believe that cues such as dishware size are easy to alter—simply by using smaller dishes, for instance, people can reduce unnecessary calorie consumption. Alternately, if the goal is to eat more fruits and veggies, perhaps a large plate would help.

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