Product Packaging and Portion Sizes

Packaging is the “interface” between food-industry products and the consumer—that is, it is the public’s first point of contact—and food packages implicitly suggest portion sizes or food combinations (e.g., which foods are eaten together such as peanut butter and jelly). But a product package can be modified in three general ways—by size, visual appeal, and the type and amount of information it provides (such as the nutritional content according to the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels)—in order to assist consumers in making knowledgeable purchasing decisions and determining portion sizes for themselves.

Because energy requirements vary both by age and body size (IOM, 2002), parents need to be aware of the appropriate amount of food that will help meet but not exceed their child’s own energy needs. In order to do so at present, however, they must overcome an established and unhealthy trend; research has revealed a progressive increase in portion sizes of many types of foods and beverages made available to Americans from 1977 to 1998 (Nielsen and Popkin, 2003; Smiciklas-Wright et al., 2003), the same period during which a rise in obesity prevalence has been observed (Nestle, 2003b; Rolls, 2003).

Some research on the effects of food portion size has shown that children 3 years old and younger seem to be relatively unresponsive to the size of the portions of food that they are served (Rolls et al., 2000; see also Chapter 8). By contrast, the food intake of older children and adults is strongly influenced by portion size, with larger portions often promoting excess energy intake (McConahy et al., 2002; Rolls et al., 2002; Orlet Fisher et al., 2003). Children 3 to 5 years of age consumed more of an entrée and 15 percent more total energy at lunch when presented with portion sizes that were double an age-appropriate standard size (Orlet Fisher et al., 2003). Portions that are currently served and consumed at home, and particularly away from home, may be several times the USDA-recommended serving size or recommended caloric level3 (Orlet Fisher et al., 2003). In addition to food portion size, the frequency of eating and the types of foods consumed are important predictors of energy intake as children transition from being toddlers to preschoolers. One study that evaluated the relationship of food intake behaviors to total energy intake among


A serving size is a standardized unit of measure used to describe the total amount of foods recommended daily from each of the food groups from the Food Guide Pyramid (FGP) or a specific amount of food that contains the quantity of nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. A portion size is the amount of food an individual is served at home or away from home and chooses to consume for a meal or snack. Portions can be larger or smaller than serving sizes listed on the food label or the FGP (USDA, 1999).

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