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Understanding the science of portion control and the art of downsizing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Marion Hetherington, Pam Blundell-Birtill, Samantha Caton, Joanne E. Cecil, Charlotte Evans, Barbara Rolls, Tang Tang

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Offering large portions of high-energy-dense (HED) foods increases overall intake in children and adults. This is known as the portion size effect (PSE). It is robust, reliable and enduring. Over time, the PSE may facilitate overeating and ultimately positive energy balance. Therefore, it is important to understand what drives the PSE and what might be done to counter the effects of an environment promoting large portions, especially in children. Explanations for the PSE are many and diverse, ranging from consumer error in estimating portion size to simple heuristics such as cleaning the plate or eating in accordance with consumption norms. However, individual characteristics and hedonic processes influence the PSE, suggesting a more complex explanation than error or heuristics. Here PSE studies are reviewed to identify interventions that can be used to downsize portions of HED foods, with a focus on children who are still learning about social norms for portion size. Although the scientific evidence for the PSE is robust, there is still a need for creative downsizing solutions to facilitate portion control as children and adolescents establish their eating habits.


Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
VolumeFirst View
Early online date24 May 2018
StateE-pub ahead of print - 24 May 2018

    Research areas

  • Portion size, Food intake, Children, Adolescents, Energy density

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