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FOR RELEASE: February 22, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Portion Sizes Help Maintain a Healthy Weight

In 2002, 129 million adult Americans were overweight or obese. Likewise, in Oklahoma, an estimated 59.2 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese can put you at risk for developing many diseases, especially heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. However, losing this weight helps to prevent and control these diseases, according to officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). Knowing the difference between “servings” and “portions” can help keep the weight off.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) guidelines offer a new approach for the measurement of overweight and obesity and a set of steps for safe and effective weight loss. If you eat on the run or at restaurants, you’ve noticed that food portions have gotten larger. While some meals are called "super size," others have simply grown in size and provide enough food for at least two people. With this growth in portion size comes increases in waistlines and body weight.

“Many people confuse the terms ‘serving’ and ‘portion’ and end up overeating based on the number of servings without regard to the size of the portions,” said OSDH dietitian, Leslie Pelton. “Eating nutritious meals in the correct portions and getting regular exercise is the beginning of maintaining a healthy weight.”

For instance, a “serving” is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group in the Food Guide Pyramid and is outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. All packaged foods list the number of servings contained on the Nutrition Facts label. However, a “portion” is the amount of a specific food you choose to eat for dinner, snack, or other eating occasion. Portions, of course, can be bigger or smaller than the recommended serving size.

For example, six to 11 servings of whole grains are recommended daily. A recommended serving of whole grains would be one slice of bread or one-half cup of rice or pasta. People often confuse the recommendation to mean six to 11 portions with no regard to serving size. A large bowl of pasta may contain four to six servings of pasta.

Some examples of how portions have changed over the last 20 years, include:

  • 20 years ago: coffee was served in 8-ounce cups and was 45 calories;today: a Mocha coffee is offered at 16 ounces and is 350 calories. To burn off the extra calories: walk for one hour and 20 minutes.
  • 20 years ago: a blueberry muffin was 1.5 ounces and 210 calories: today: a blueberry muffin is served at 5 ounces and is 500 calories. To burn off the extra calories: vacuum for one hour and three minutes
  • 20 years ago: two pepperoni pizza slices were 500 calories; today: two large slices are 850 calories. To burn off the extra calories: play golf for one hour.
  • 20 years ago: chicken caesar salad was 390 calories for one and one-half cups; today: 790 calories. To burn off the extra calories: walk the dog one hour and 20 minutes.

To see if you know the difference between today's portions compared to those 20 years ago, and to learn how much physical activity is required to burn those additional calories, visit this Web site: http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/keep.htm and take the quiz on Portion Distortion I (2003) and Portion Distortion II (2004).

For more information about portion distortion, contact the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program at 1-888-655-2942 or the nutritionist at your county health department.


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