Conditions

Dish Size May Determine Kids' Appetite: 52% More Food Is Consumed When Served On Bigger Plates

A bowl of cereal
The size of a cereal bowl, for example, could influence the amount of food a child eats, and could possibly lead them to overeat. wsilver, CC BY 2.0

The solution to childhood obesity may lie in where it stemmed from: the kitchen. Bigger dishes not only cause adults to serve and consume more calories, but kids too. According to a recent study, children who are served larger bowls will not only ask for more food but will also eat 52 percent more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says childhood obesity has more than doubled in children in the past 30 years with more than one third reported to be overweight or obese. An unhealthy diet and poor eating habits is one of the most common risk factors of the disease. Children who consume a lot of calories, eat fast food, skip breakfast, consume high-calorie drinks, and eat oversized portions are prone to gaining an excessive amount of weight, and are more likely to become obese.

The portions served at restaurants may contribute to American perceptions of normal portion sizes, which can affects how much food is eaten at home. Controlling portion sizes and eating healthy may help regulate calorie intake and prevent obesity. This disease can leave kids susceptible to a series of detrimental health outcomes, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

A team of researchers at Cornell University conducted two studies to examine how bowl-size impacts the portion of food kids request and how much more kids ate when served food in larger bowls.

In the first study, 69 preschool-age children were randomized to receive either a small (8 ounce) or a large (16 ounce) cereal bowl, and were asked to say how much cereal they wanted for a morning snack. The adults served the kids cereal and milk in small increments continually asking, “Is that enough or do you want more?” until the kids said they had enough food. The findings revealed that children who were served the larger bowls requested 87 percent more cereal and milk, regardless of age, gender or body mass index (BMI). Cereal and milk consumption was not measured in this study.

“The quickest way parents can help kids eat less might be to grab them a smaller bowl,” Brian Wansink, professor of behavioral economics and the lead author of the study, said in a news release. “Make it 12 ounces rather than the 20 ounces we use.”

The bigger bowls lead kids to request more food, but would it lead to increased consumption too? For their second experiment, the researchers investigated the eating habits of 18 children between the ages of 6 and 10 at a summer camp. The children were given a small cereal bowl on one day, and a large cereal bowl on another day, and asked by a cafeteria sever how much cereal and milk they wanted for breakfast. Secret scales embedded within the tables were used by the researchers to measure how much milk and cereal was served, consumed, and wasted. BMI was calculated at the end of the study.

The older children consumed 52 percent more food when it was served in the larger bowls, while 69 percent of the summer campers were inclined to request more cereal and milk, but wasted 26 percent more. The researchers believe larger bowls not only lead to requesting more food but also increased intake.

"Bigger bowls cause kids to request nearly twice as much food, leading to increased intake as well as higher food waste," said Ven Ittersum, researcher of the study.

To curb obesity the researchers suggest that parents use smaller dishware for children in order to monitor their caloric intake. Choosemyplate.gov estimates that children between the ages of 2 and 3 should consume 1,000 calories per day, while children between the ages of 4 and 8 should consume anywhere between 1,200 to 1,400 a day if they are not physically active. The dish size that food is served in will determine a child's caloric intake for the day.

In a similar study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that kids served themselves an extra 90 calories, on average, when using full-sized adult dishware. These children were found to consume approximately 50 percent of the calories that they were served providing evidence that their self-served portion sizes are influenced by size-related factors of their meal setting.

Decreasing plate size may be an easy way to prevent kids from dishing out too much food. A separate set of smaller dishware for kids could be an effective way to regulate caloric intake in the home.

To learn about weight management for youth, click here.

Sources: Payne CR, Van Ittersum K, Wansink B. Larger Bowl Size Increases the Amount of Cereal Children Request, Consume, and Waste. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2013.

Birch LL, Bruton Y, DiSantis KI et al. Plate Size and Children’s Appetite: Effects of Larger Dishware on Self-Served Portions and Intake. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2013.

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