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Portion Sizes and the Obesity Epidemic

Can downsizing our meals lead to fewer supersized kids?


Updated March 06, 2004

Updated March 06, 2004
Most people understand that in addition to not getting enough exercise, another reason for the rise in overweight children is that they simply don't eat well. Too much juice and soda, junk food, and fast food are part of the problem. Another is simply that kids often just eat too much.

And overeating is easy to do. Every where you turn, it seems like our kids are offered foods and drinks that are just too big. From 32 ounce sodas to oversized bags of chips and 'super' sized meals, many kids simply get too much to eat.

McDonald's is taking a good first step in helping to make meal sizes more healthy. Their current 'phase-out of the Super Size fry and the Super Size drink options' may help to make trips to eat fast food a little less unhealthy. In reviewing that a McDonald's Super Size order of french fries has 630 calories and 29 grams of fat and that a Super Size soda is 42 ounces, cutting back makes sense.

Still, a large order of McDonald's french fries doesn't offer that many fewer calories or fat than the Super Size version. Although it is less, the large fries still has 540 calories and 26 grams of fat. If you use our Fast Food Nutrition Facts Calculator, you can see that for an average 12 year old boy who weighs 90 pounds, the large fries still provides 24 percent of the daily calorie requirements and 35 percent of the daily fat requirements, just from one part of one meal.

A 32 ounce large soda at McDonald's adds another 310 calories to the meal. That is better than the 410 calories from the Super Size soda, but with a large fries and large soda, you have reached almost half of your child's daily calorie needs without even getting him a hamburger yet!

This is not to say that the step McDonald's is taking isn't important. You will need to take things a few steps further though if you want fast food to be a part of your child's diet at times and help him to still be healthy. So instead of just avoiding Super Size choices, you might want to choose a simple hamburger or cheeseburger, small or child sized fries, and a small drink. Keep in mind that even the 'small' drink at McDonald's is 16 ounces though, and more than your child likely needs to drink at one time.

Other tips to help get your child's portion sizes under better control, both at home and when you eat out, might be to:

  • buy only single serving or 'bite size' snacks.
  • review the label and repackage foods into single serving sizes. If a bag of cookies says that a single serving is 3 cookies, then put 3 cookies in a plastic baggie or on a plate when you give it to your kids.
  • avoid letting your kids just eat from a bag of snacks or carton of ice cream, since they will likely eat much more than one serving.
  • offer a single serving of the main course of any meals that you prepare at home, and let your kids have extra salad or other vegetables if they are still hungry
  • choose child portions, small orders, or half orders when you eat out at restaurants
Simply making your kids avoid all unhealthy foods and ever eating at fast food restaurants isn't really practical, so for most parents, it is going to be more important to learn to fit these things into your child's diet in a healthy way. Being consistent with this approach, allowing these foods in moderation only, and watching your child's portion sizes, should help to avoid their becoming overweight and maintaining a healthy weight. Of course, they will also have to be active on a regular basis.

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