The Truth About Supersized Portions

When Burger King first introduced its french fries in 1954, the fast-food chain served up 2.6 ounces per portion. McDonald’s followed a year later with a 2.4-ounce serving of fries. Today, Burger King offers four portion sizes of fries, up to a 6.9-ounce “king-size.” McDonald’s’ four sizes top out with a 7.1-ounce “Supersize.”

Serving sizes of restaurant and convenience food have increased so much over the last 50 years, according to a recent New York University (NYU) study, that dieticians say Americans no longer know what an adequate portion size is.

“Most of us are eating out a lot more than we did, say, 10 years ago,” says pediatric nutritionist Keith Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., of the American Dietetic Association. “When we are continually conditioned to eating out and to the portions we get when we’re eating out, we tend to bring that home and expect those portions at home.”

Furthermore, because portion sizes have increased, consumers often get too much of their daily requirement of even healthy foods, Ayoob says. One bagel, for example, can easily comprise the minimum daily requirement of six servings of grain, he says. With such big portions, federal recommendations of up to 11 servings of grain per day would mean eating too much.

The NYU study analyzed the increases in fast-food serving sizes and concluded that “most marketplace portions exceed standard sizes by as much as eight times.” Along with French fries, researchers also analyzed:

  • Soda – McDonald’s first offered soda in a 7-ounce serving, but now features five different portions, ranging from 12 ounces to 42 ounces. Convenience store chain 7-Eleven sells a whopping 64-ounce “Double Gulp.”

  • Beef – McDonald’s hamburgers were introduced in 1955 as a 1.6-ounce serving. Today, you can order up to 8 ounces of beef in a McDonald’s burger.

  • Candy – Hershey’s debuted its milk chocolate bar in 1908 as a mere 0.6 ounces. Now you can buy an 8-ounce bar.

If you’re not sure how much food you and your family should be eating, check out "Understanding Proper Portions” for a more detailed look at federally recommended portion sizes.