Portions play pivotal role in promoting consumer health, reducing food waste, Georgetown University reports

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - Xsandra
Image Credit: Getty Images - Xsandra

Related tags Portion control Food waste

Reducing portion sizes across the food and beverage industry, including foodservice, can have a profound impact on consumer health and help combat food waste, Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business shared in a recent report.

In the Power of Portions report​, members of Georgetown University’s Portion Balance Coalition (PBC) shared research and perspectives on the role of portion. The report was also sponsored by the American Beverage Association, American Frozen Food Institute, General Mills, Mondelēz International, National Confectioners Association and The Kraft Heinz Company.

The PBC, in conjunction with research firm Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), surveyed over 1,000 general-population respondents about their attitudes on portions. The NMI also segmented the audience into five groups, including the Well Beings; Fence Sitters; Food Actives; Magic Bullets; and the Eat, Drink and Be Merrys, which represent consumers with different attitudes toward health and wellness overall. 

“When we view portion efforts through a holistic lens, we give consumers the tools they need to make informed decisions about food and wellness while supporting broader corporate goals to reduce food waste and lower costs. The Power of Portions report intends to shine a light on portion management as the best strategy to help reduce obesity rates and promote healthier lifestyles,” Hank Cardello, chair of the Portion Balance Coalition at Georgetown McDonough’s Business for Impact shared in a press release​.                                                                      

Consumers turn to nutrition labels, portioning to control caloric intake

Despite products that have shrunk in size due to inflation (i.e., shrinkflation), portion sizes in several product categories have ballooned over the last several decades. Since 1970, a bagel that weighed 2oz. now weighs 4oz., the average cheeseburger has increased from 5.9oz. to 7.3 oz., and a standard restaurant serving of spaghetti and meatballs has doubled, according to data cited in the report. 

Consumers use a variety of tactics, including practicing mindful eating and using smaller bowls to regulate how much they eat or drink. 

Overall, shoppers place higher importance on portion size than the amount of sodium and calories in a recipe but below taste and availability of ingredients at home. Most consumers (85%) say portions influence their at-home food-preparation decisions, while 84% said the amount of sodium is an influence, and 83% said calories were a factor. However, the top influences are taste and ingredients at home, with 97% and 93% of consumers, respectively, citing it as a decision factor.

More than half (52%) of all consumers surveyed simply eat until their stomach is full, while 51% prepare enough food so everyone can enjoy, and 51% of consumers practice "mindful eating.” Nearly half of consumers (46%) also read Nutrition Facts labels to learn about serving size, and 48% of consumers say they use plates and bowls, as opposed to eating directly from the packaging, to limit their portion. 

Consumers who fall in the Well Beings demographic — the most health-proactive demographic — have a higher rate of practicing mindful eating and reading Nutrition Facts labels, with 72% of them saying they do both. They were also slightly more likely to say they eat until full (54%), and 63% use plates and bowls to manage portions.  

However, consumers with higher average body mass indexes (BMIs) are the ones that read labels the least and are reflected by the Magic Bullets (consumers who look for quick and easy solutions to health, including medications) and the Eat, Drink and Be Merrys demographics, which are the two groups with the lowest commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Almost a third (31%) of Magic Bullets read labels, and 23% of Eat, Drink and Be Merrys consumers do the same. 

Combatting food waste with smaller portions 

Larger portion sizes not only impact consumers' health, but they also contribute to food waste when left uneaten, the report stated. 

Approximately 30-40% of food is wasted in the food supply chain, and consumers contribute to that number because they buy or cook more than they need, according to USDA data cited in the report. Similarly, 31-40% of the food served in restaurants is never consumed, according to a report published in the International Journal of Applied Management and Technology.

“Awareness about food waste has risen sharply among both lawmakers and consumers, and we see it as an area where reducing the portions offered by food and beverage companies and at restaurants can make a significant impact, along with moving the needle on obesity,” the PBC shared in the report. 

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