Interview: Very big food portions making people very fat: Australian researchers

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-05 13:55:45|Editor: Song Lifang
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by Will Koulouris

SYDNEY, July 5 (Xinhua) -- With record number of obese people around the globe, a new study released Tuesday has revealed that the size of food portions is a major culprit in keeping people overweight.

The research, conducted by the George Institute for Global Health and with researchers comparing data over a 15-year timeframe, discovered that portion sizes in Australia for the most frequently eaten fatty foods had increased dramatically.

These foods are those that you do not want to eat much of, according to the head of the food policy division at the George Institute, Bruce Neal, who told Xinhua at his offices on Wednesday that they found "significant increases" in portion sizes, and that most of the blame can be placed on the food industry.

"There has been some sort of cultural shift over the last fifteen or twenty years that the study examined. For example, if you look at the size of dinner plates now they are bigger than they used to be, so that encourages people to put more food on," Neal said.

"But we also know that the portions, or the serving sizes of foods provided by fast food outlets have also grown enormously."

Of the foods assessed in the report, cake and pizza were singled out as the most egregious size shifters, with a 66 percent increase in the amount of kilojoules consumed in one sitting on average, and Neal said that this is a ploy used by the food industry to improve profits.

"Adding to the size of what you give people is a really sort of cost effective way for big businesses to increase their market share," Neal said.

"The consequence of that of course is that people eat too much, they get fat, they eat too much salt, sugar, and they suffer the consequences."

Not all of the fatty foods increased in size however, as snack foods, potato chips and pastries all got smaller, and one of the researchers at the institute, Dr Zheng Miaobing speculated on a reason as to why this may be the case.

"We aren't 100 percent sure why the portion sizes of these foods reduced, but if you take fries, for example, most fast food chains offer small portions, so it could be the case that people recognize these foods are unhealthy and consciously try and eat less of them," Zheng said.

"But, unfortunately these foods items were the exception, not the norm."

Data from the government run Australian Institute of Health of Welfare states that almost two in three Australians, or 63 percent, are either overweight or obese while 25 percent of Australian children are also overweight or obese.

Despite the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey in 2011-12 showing that being obese, or overweight, is the second highest contributor to the burden of disease, while the incidence of obese or overweight people has increased by 10 percent over the same course of time as the study, Neal believes that the "obesity epidemic" can still be reversed.

"We can do something to stop the obesity epidemic, and the reason I would say that is that we have managed to make a huge number of people very fat in a very short time period," Neal said.

"So this is clearly something that we can influence. What we haven't figured out yet is how to make them un-fat,"

"So it's definitely possible, but we are going to need really significant political, and commercial will to make it happen," he added.

One of the main things that the food policy expert would like to see moving forward is more of an emphasis placed on the "food environment," rather than some form of regulatory fatty food fix from the government.

"I think a big part of this is what we call the food environment. So where people eat, what they see, how they are advertised to, and I think a lot of that is really down to the food industry," Neal said.

"You can educate people as much as you like, but if you don't put them in an environment where they can easily choose smaller portions, and make healthier choices, then it's always going to be problematic."