As obesity increases across America, the increase in fast-food serving sizes could be a major contributor.

How Have the Serving Sizes of Fast Food Changed?

by Rebecca Slayton

Fast food has been a growing business since its start in the early 1900s. A fast-food meal is higher in calories these days. An average fast-food meal served in the United States is four times larger than a fast-food meal in the 1950s. What was considered a normal-size adult meal in the beginning of the fast-food business is now considered a kid's meal.

Serving Size

First, you need to understand the difference between a serving size and portion size. A serving size is a standard of measurement, while a portion size is the amount of food you eat at one time. The serving size of a piece of meat is 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. When you order a burger at a fast-food restaurant, you get around 12 ounces of meat, on average. This is four servings -- but one large portion of meat. A burger in the 1950s was only 3.9 ounces. Therefore, today you get more servings per meal when you eat at a fast-food restaurant.

Calories Galore

This calculates to more calories per meal, too. These extra calories cause weight gain and ultimately lead to people being overweight or obese. If you consume an extra 100 calories per day for a year and do not use them up by being active, you gain an extra 10 pounds a year. Cheeseburgers at fast-food restaurants just 20 years ago had 210 calories fewer than those today. A small soda has increased by 165 calories. Most people want a good deal, so they order the larger sizes, adding even more calories to their meal.

Health Impact

As fast-food companies have increased the portion sizes, Americans have increased in size as well. Today, Americans on average are 26 pounds heavier compared to 20 years ago. Americans are among the heaviest of people in developed countries. As of 2013, around 61 percent of Americans are classified as overweight. As weight increases, so does your risk of health problems. Being overweight puts you at an increased risk of type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Healthier Options

While fast-food restaurants have increased the size of their meals to make customers feel like they are getting a better value, the trend has had a negative effect on their health. Fast food can still be part of your diet; you just need to make healthier choices. Fast-food restaurants have started to add healthier options to their menu. Opt for smaller sizes to save calories. Order a kid's meal instead of a combo. If you want a particular food that is not offered as a kid’s meal, split the meal with a friend, or take half of it home for later. Instead of ordering soda with your meal, drink water. As a replacement for your fries, opt for a side salad.

About the Author

Rebecca Slayton is a Registered Dietitian and has worked in the nutrition field since 2006. Slayton received the 2005 Betty Feezor Scholarship Award for her studies. She holds a Master of Science in food and nutrition from East Carolina University.

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