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Mistakes people make in gauging portion sizes

People tend to underestimate the size of portions and eat more calories than they intended to. The study that turned up this odd fact also found that if a person is aware that a food is not good for them, they’ll be more likely to judge the portion size realistically. Organisations participating in this study included the Forschungsinstitut für Kinderernährung (FKE) and the University of Bonn in Germany.

Experiment #1: Chocolate and carrots

The research team performed three different experiments. In the first experiment, 84 primary school pupils were shown a set of photographs. The first photos showed a plate containing five pieces of chocolate and five small carrots. The scientists then produced photos with increasing numbers of items (10, 20, 40, 80, 160) for the children to estimate. The greater the amount, the more the pupils underestimated the number of pieces of chocolate and carrots on the plate. Often the pupils perceived a portion to be only half the size that it actually was.

Experiment #2: Gummi bears

In a second experiment 115 students were asked to estimate the weight of packages containing gummi bears. The sweets were marked either as an unhealthy variant or as a foodstuff with valuable omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. Some of the test persons had the chance to sample the gummi bears beforehand. People who were allowed to sample first and then were handed the "unhealthy" gummi bears made the most accurate estimates of portion size.

Experiment #3: Crisps

For the third experiment the scientists selected 116 men and women from a fitness studio whom they questioned about their health awareness. The scientists then showed the test persons differing quantities of crisps, some of which were labelled fat reduced. The testees who made the most accurate estimates were people who had rated themselves as health-conscious and who had been given "unhealthy" crisps with a normal fat content.

Temptation and knowledge make for
correct estimates

It seems that people are best able to estimate the size of portions if they are tempted by a foodstuff, but at the same time are aware that it is somehow unhealthy. Further studies are, however, necessary to consolidate the results and understand what is behind this effect. It would also be interesting to observe whether better estimates of portion sizes mean that people change the amounts they eat.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de