If asked, 1 in 3 would accept smaller portion at fast-food outlet, study finds


Asked if they would prefer a small portion at a fast-food restaurant, as many as a third of people involved in a new study said they would happily opt for opted for the downsized — and thus lower calorie — option.

Authors of the study, published in the journal Health Affairs under the headline "Inviting Consumers To Downsize Fast-Food Portions Significantly Reduces Calorie Consumption," found that when servers asked customers whether they'd like to "downsize" starchy side dishes at a Chinese fast-food restaurant, as many as a third gladly cut back — cutting an average 200 calories each meal.

"The restaurant thought people wouldn’t be willing to do it," NBC quoted lead study author Janet Schwartz of Tulane University's A.B. Freeman School of Business, as saying. 

But in fact, she said: "Some people don’t want big supersized portions and they’re willing to pay a premium for it by paying the same amount for less food."

Schwartz, a psychologist, said other strategies to encourage people to eat less, like displaying the calorie count of every item on the fast food restaurant menu, had not led to weight loss.

UPI quoted Schwartz as saying: "Our goal was to test whether the invitation to downsize a meal component would be embraced by consumers and, importantly, whether the approach would be more effective than a purely information-based approach — in this case calorie labeling."

CNN asserted that Americans were — early on and oftentimes by parents — encouraged to clean their plates or miss out on dessert.

And, CNN wrote: "Frequently, regardless of how hungry we are, that’s exactly what we’ll do."

The website cites research by Brian Wansink, the author of "Mindless Eating," as suggesting that people tend to feel satiated only when their plates are empty, regardless of how much food is actually served.

"Additional evidence from other studies confirms the notion that much of our overeating is due to mindless consumption."

NBC quotes University of Pittsburgh nutritionist Leslie Bonci as saying that the growth of the portion size had changed consumers' expectations.

"There was a time when the piece of meat on our plate would be 6 ounces," Bonci reportedly said. "Now, depending on where you go, it can be anywhere from 9 to 12 ounces – and more if you get a steak. A serving of pasta used to be a cup, now it’s 3 at a minimum and often up to 6.

"Meanwhile, vegetables have taken a nose-dive. You used to get five chunks of broccoli on your plate, now it’s just one sad little spear. There’s been a total reversal of what’s being put on our plates and our eyes have gotten used to it."

The study authors said that while a strategy of offering downsized meals should be encouraged, using a different selling strategy might be more effective, and suggested referring to the practice as "rightsizing." 

Bonci reportedly concurred.

"Downsizing has such a negative connotation," she said. "People are going to think, 'I don’t want to lose my food!'

"Instead of asking, 'would you like to add some fries,' servers could ask, 'would you like to right-size it."

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