Study Finds Large Portions Lead to Overeating

Waiter serving large portions of food on plateEliminating jumbo-sized portions could reduce the calories Americans consume by as much as 29%, according to findings from a study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. More than two thirds of American adults are classified as overweight, including almost 3 in 4 men. Thirty-five percent of overweight American adults—1 in 3—are classified as obese.

Obesity: Are Larger Portions to Blame?

In recent years, policymakers have looked to limit portion size in an attempt to fight obesity. In 2014, the New York State Court of Appeals rejected the city’s ban on sugary drinks served in containers larger than 16 ounces.

To assess the effects of larger portion sizes, researchers reviewed 72 studies of jumbo-sized products. The studies—conducted between 1978 and 2013—compared at least two groups of participants who were each presented with different portion sizes. Three of the studies investigated tobacco instead of food. The average age of participants in each individual study range from 3 to 55, with most studies involving adults rather than children.

By analyzing the results of each study, researchers found that people ate and drank more when offered larger portion sizes. To put the increase in consumption into perspective, researchers assessed how much more people would eat if larger portion sizes were made available for all foods and drinks. In this scenario, the scientists say, jumbo portions could lead to a 12-16% increase in average daily energy intake from food. Eliminating jumbo portions could reduce calorie consumption by 29%.

Jumbo Portions May Not Be Only Problem

Though the latest study seems to support a link between jumbo sizes and overconsumption, researchers say the data in support of this conclusion is only moderate. Some of the studies relied on unclear or incomplete reporting methods. The studies of portion size that looked at tobacco consumption did not find a correlation between cigarette size and smoking.


  1. Grynbaum, M. M. (2014, June 26). New York’s ban on big sodas is rejected by final court. Retrieved from
  2. Hollands, G. J., Shemilt, I., Marteau, T. M., Jebb, S. A., Lewis, H. B., Wei, Y., Higgins, J. P., Ogilvie, D. (2015, September 14). Portion, package or tableware size for changing selection and consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd011045
  3. Overweight and obesity statistics. (2012, October). Retrieved from

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  • Courtney

    September 15th, 2015 at 2:43 PM

    I think that there are a plethora of reasons why we overeat and I do think that presentation has a whole lot to do with it. As the dishes get bigger so do we I guess.

  • Will

    September 16th, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    I have always trued to stuff down my feelings with food so obviously I am an over eater. I try to be very mindful of the signals that I get now as I try to shed some weight about when I am really full, and what I am eating for. Am I really hungry? Or am I eating to try to avoid something else that could be bothering me? It’s hard, I will say that because these are habits that I have created over years and years and so it is not the easiest thing to avoid those thoughts and feelings, but I fight a little bit more every single day to try and work through some of this.

  • stefan

    September 16th, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    Yes, if it is front of me then I am going to eat it, no doubt

  • Tess

    September 17th, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Look, I am the first one to admit that I would love for there to be an easy fix when it comes to me overeating and being fat.

    But the truth of the matter is that there is no one thing that causes that aside from me eating too much, plain and simple. If I am full then I should know it. It shouldn’t mean that I need someone to offer portion control to me. This is something that I need to learn to do for myself.

  • eunice

    September 18th, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    I am like Tess… I would love to be able to blame something for my obesity, but it is what it is and mostly it is me and my overeating. I would like to be able to push away from the table, but what can I say? I am a fan of food and a fan of the large portions when I go out because that makes me feel more like I am getting what I paid for. So while there are some things that probably do need to be changed about this for me it is all about personal choices and I recognize that.

  • Marley

    September 21st, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    There is no answer for this until individually we all own up to our own culpability

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