Good Results in Small Packages
Small packages can yield big results for changing food consumption. That’s the word from a new, exhaustive evidence review published by the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration. Researchers led by Gareth Hollands analyzed 72 studies over the last 35 years and found that smaller portions, packages, and tableware consistently lead people to consume less food and drink. They concluded:
Policies and practices that successfully reduce the size, availability and appeal of larger-sized portions, packages, individual units and tableware can contribute to meaningful reductions in the quantities of food (including non-alcoholic beverages) people select and consume in the immediate and short term.
This finding is not entirely a bolt from the blue, but the consensus is compelling. For decades now, packaged foods, dinnerware, and restaurant meals have grown larger and the prevalence of obesity has grown in parallel. The Cochrane analysis suggests the potential for cutting more than 500 calories daily for U.S. adults through sustained exposure to smaller sizes.
Making it happen is a different matter. New York City’s attempt to restrict outrageously large servings of sugary drinks fell on its face in court challenges. Yet public attention is driving soda marketers to push smaller servings for sales growth at a premium price. Simultaneously, they meet commitments to cut the number of empty calories they’re pushing into the food supply.
Of course, there are always caveats. The evidence is from short-term studies, so long-term outcomes and effects on actual obesity are far from certain. But it’s a good place to start.
It will take a mixture of public pressure, smart government action, and private engagement to make such changes take hold. The potential is significant.
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September 21, 2015