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Increasing portion size in Britain.

Benson, C. (2009) 'Increasing portion size in Britain.', Society, biology and human affairs., 74 (2). pp. 4-20.


British obesity levels have risen significantly in the past two decades, with over half of all British adults now overweight or obese (NEPHO 2005). Much research has been undertaken in the United States into the effect of historical changes in food portion sizes upon obesity levels, with positive correlations being found in the majority of research (Young & Nestle 1998 & 2002, Rolls et al 2002). Despite the recent interest in food portion sizes and obesity, little research has been conducted within Britain to date. This explorative study aimed to address the gap in the literature by ascertaining the extent to which food portions sizes have changed in Britain over the past century and to examine the causes of any such changes. Several qualitative and quantitative research methods were employed to conduct this research which consisted of national food survey analyses, manufacturer data analyses, recipe analyses, food portion size exercises, questionnaires, a focus group and the creation of two threads on website forums. The research showed that portion sizes have changed dramatically in Britain, with the most significant increases occurring within the past twenty years. The qualitative research highlighted that not only are increasing portion sizes affecting caloric intake, but the increasing prevalence of snacking is also an issue. There is no one explanation for these changes in dietary habits however, it appears that the main causes of the increase in British portion sizes are a combination of intensive farming methods, the effects of globalisation, in particular Britain’s intensive exposure to American culture, and the notion of ‘waste not want not’ which appears embedded in the publics consciousness. Levels of lay comprehension of increasing portion sizes are questionable, and it appears that even those people who are aware of the negative impact that larger than standard portions can have, still struggle to refrain from over-eating. The lack of public advice on appropriate portion sizes for different individuals only adds to the confusion among the public as to appropriate amounts to consume and begs us to consider future public information into food portion sizes.

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