How are children choosing their food portions?

October 7, 2008

At dinner time, parents will often tell their child to clean their plate. However, that old maxim might lead kids to eat more than they need, especially when portions are adult-sized or supersized.

In findings to be presented at The Obesity Society's Annual Meeting on Oct. 7, children took more food when larger portions were made available to them.

Jennifer Fisher, Ph.D., associate professor of public health and researcher at the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, and her research team observed 61 children between five and six years old to determine their eating habits when normal entrée portions (275 g) and "super-sized" entrée portions (550g) were offered. The children used either teaspoons or tablespoons to serve themselves.

They found that while children served themselves larger portions when the super-sized meal was available, portion sizes varied by gender, ethnicity, and parents' reports of child feeding practices — all environmental influences on children's eating behavior.

Fisher theorizes that having large amounts of food available conveys a social expectation about portion size that condones larger self-served portions.

"Seeing a large amount of food in front of you can lead you to believe that someone decided this portion was the right amount to eat," she said. "These results suggest that children take cues from their eating environments when deciding how much is enough."

There currently is very little research on what factors affect children's eating habits, but Fisher's team hopes to pinpoint some of these factors to determine how children's eating patterns develop, which could help stave off unhealthy relationships with food later on in life.

"We are interested in the cues that children take from their eating environments when serving themselves," said Fisher. "Many questions about children's eating habits are as yet unanswered, such as whether large quantities of food and large utensils prompt children to eat more or if the size of children's self-served portions influences their caloric intake."

Fisher and her team are currently exploring a number of different avenues to determine the association between the amount of food children are served and the amount they're actually eating.

"Our goal is to try to identify ways to promote healthful choices from an early age," she said. "We want children to grow up with good eating habits, and without having to struggle with food issues into adulthood."

Source: Temple University

Explore further: How Canada can help protect Canadians from obesity and chronic disease

Related Stories

How Canada can help protect Canadians from obesity and chronic disease

December 14, 2017
University of Toronto nutritional scientists are leading a study with national experts calling on the Canadian government to outlaw junk food marketing to children, impose stricter limits on unhealthy nutrients added to foods, ...

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Drug increases speed, safety of treatment for multiple food allergies

December 11, 2017
In a randomized, controlled phase-2 clinical trial, an asthma medication increased the speed and safety of a protocol used to treat children for several food allergies at once, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford ...

Healthy eating linked to kids' happiness

December 13, 2017
Healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight, according to a study published ...

Parents modeling healthy behaviors leads to markedly better outcomes for children

December 13, 2017
When trying to help children lose weight, involving a parent in the treatment makes the entire family healthier, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown.

Is your child's school an obesity risk?

December 13, 2017
Child obesity rates are skyrocketing globally. Young children spend the lion's share of their time in school, consuming a large portion of their daily calories there and developing lifelong eating habits and food preferences ...

Recommended for you

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

One in five patients report discrimination in health care

December 14, 2017
Almost one in five older patients with a chronic disease reported experiencing health care discrimination of one type or another in a large national survey that asked about their daily experiences of discrimination between ...

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

Searching for a link between achy joints and rainy weather in a flood of data, researchers come up dry

December 13, 2017
Rainy weather has long been blamed for achy joints. Unjustly so, according to new research from Harvard Medical School. The analysis, published Dec. 13 in BMJ, found no relationship between rainfall and joint or back pain.

Mistletoe and (a large) wine: Seven-fold increase in wine glass size over 300 years

December 13, 2017
Our Georgian and Victorian ancestors probably celebrated Christmas with more modest wine consumption than we do today - if the size of their wine glasses are anything to go by. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have ...

How well can digital assistants answer questions on sex?

December 13, 2017
Google laptop searches seem to be better at finding quality online sexual health advice than digital assistants on smartphones, find experts in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.