We\’ve heard the scary statistics about the expanding waistlines of the American public – a 2009 CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) study reports that a third of adults and 16% of children are obese. Proposed culprits include TV, the Internet, inactivity, viruses, lack of sleep, easy availability of fast food, heavy friends, genetics, side effects of medicine, hormonal issues, air conditioning (it\’s too comfortable inside to go outside), safety concerns that keep people within their homes, companies that manipulate fat, salt, and sugar in foods that make us crave high-calorie food, and portion size.

A little research on this last one, portion size, shows how dramatically servings have grown over the years. When combined with the psychology that people tend to eat more if it\’s there, and companies\’ increased profit margins when they charge a nominal fee (about 16%) for a larger serving size (additional advertising, design, and labor costs are negligible), it\’s no wonder that we\’re getting bigger and bigger. And, look at the sizes of the plates and glasses that are routinely now sold. My 35-year old Waterford Lismore wineglasses look positively tiny next to my recently purchased wineglasses, and my 35-year old Noritake “Blue Hill” plates are almost the same size as my new salad plates! Makes it look like a lot more space that “needs” to be filled up with food.

Here are some comparisons of serving sizes then and now:

………………………………………Then (1950s)………………………….Now
French fries………………………2.5 ounces…………………………….. 7 ounces
Hershey Bar …………………….2 ounces……………………………….. 7 ounces
Movie popcorn ………………… 5 cups………………………………….. 11 cups
Soda………………………………7 ounces……………………………….. Up to 64 ounces
Muffin …………………………….3 ounces……………………………….. 6.5 ounces
Serving of pasta…………………1.5 cups…………………………………. 3 cups
Hamburger patty ……………….1.6 ounces………………………………up to 8 ounces
Bagel………………………………3 inch diameter…………………………6 inch diameter
Chicken Caesar Salad…………1.5 cups………………………………….3.5 cups
Cheesecake………………………3 ounces…………………………………7 ounces
Cookie …………………………….1.5 inch diameter……………………..3.5 inch diameter
Chicken Stir-fry………………… 2 cups…………………………………….4.5 cups
Chips (individual bag)…………..1 ounce………………………………….3.5 ounce
Chocolate milk (bottle)…………10 ounces………………………………20 ounces

This increase in portion size (and calories) is an insidious change that we have grown accustomed to in everyday life. Being aware of this change is a first step toward addressing one of the many causes of obesity. Bon appétit!

Jan Cullinane is the co-author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007). She gives seminars on the (primarily) non-financial aspects of retirement through her company, "Retirement Living from A to Z."