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Nutrition Articles  ›  Eating Away From Home

From Wallet to Waistline

Super-Sized Portions may be More than You Bargained For

-- By American Institute of Cancer Research
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Americans who take advantage of larger sizes for just a few pennies more when eating out may be getting more calories than they bargain for, according to a new report by a coalition of health organizations. The report found that the food industry's "value marketing" encourages overeating and contributes to the skyrocketing rates of obesity in adults and children.

"Americans are constantly induced to spend a little more money to get a lot more food," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "Getting more for your money is ingrained in the American psyche. But bigger is rarely better when it comes to food."

From Wallet To Waistline: The Hidden Costs of Super Sizing, was issued by the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA), a coalition of over 225 national, state and local health organizations. The report compares the price, calories, and saturated fat in differently sized foods from fast-food chains, convenience stores, ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and movie theaters. Among the findings:
  • Upgrading from a 3-ounce Minibon to a Classic Cinnabon costs only 24% more, yet delivers 123% more calories. The larger size also provides almost three-quarters of a day's worth of artery-clogging saturated fat.
  • Switching from 7-Eleven's Gulp to a Double Gulp costs 42% more, but provides 300% more calories. Those 37 extra cents deliver 450 extra calories-more than you'd get in a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
  • It costs 8 cents more to purchase a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese, small French fries, and small Coke (890 calories) separately than to buy the Quarter Pounder with Cheese large Extra Value Meal, which comes with a large fries and large Coke (1,380 calories). "McDonald's actually charges customers more to buy a smaller, lower-calorie meal," Wootan said.
  • Moving from a small to a medium bag of movie theater popcorn costs about 71 cents-and 500 calories. A 23% increase in price provides 125% more calories and two days' worth of saturated fat. (And that's unbuttered popcorn!)
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About The Author

The American Institute for Cancer Research The American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is a charity that has contributed more than $70 million for research on diet and cancer. AICR educates Americans how to make dietary changes to lower their cancer risk.

Member Comments

  • One of my favorite "diet" restaurants is Burger King. Here me out: I get the grilled chicken sandwich, which if you haven't had it in the last year or so, is awesome now. It contains no cheese. I order it with no mayo. I get a side of Kung Pao sauce instead, which isn't the healthiest thing on the planet, but when I'm out to eat I take small liberties to enjoy my meal. For the side, I get the salad, which also has improved. I get whatever low cal vinaigrette they have (balsamic?) and use half. You really don't need the whole thing. I hate to waste, but it is much too much dressing. Sometimes I get a value menu onion ring order too. Sometimes I get the bundle and have the salad be my side and get my own drink, sometimes I share my drink with my boyfriend. Either way, it is diet soda.

    I'm not sure on the cost, because I've learned not to try to eat healthy and cheaply at the same time at a fast food restaurant. However, the onion rings, salad and sandwich come out to under 600 calories with the sauces. That's less than I often eat for dinner at home. Works for me. Not something I recommend eating every day, but if you sometimes have no choice but to eat fast food as do I, there are some acceptable choices out there. - 12/5/2012 1:35:10 PM
  • I think it is a good idea that some show the calories to help people like me make informed decisions. I don't know where they hide the calories! - 12/5/2012 4:32:20 AM
  • Did someone catch me indulging on Saturday? - 7/10/2012 5:37:34 PM
  • on the rare occasion we get to eat out, usually hubby (not on a diet by any means!) gets his own super-sized whatever combo. the kids (11, 8, and 6) all get a dollar-menu whatever, usually chicken of some form or a jr whopper if we're there, and split mom's diet whatever and fries. i get some form of chicken (or jr whopper, though the patties are so much smaller now-smaller i think than mcd's hamburger-and the price has almost doubled, from 99 cents a couple years ago to $1.89 now!!) that is a rare occasion, i will say, especially since hubby's on temporary disability from workman's comp (praying he will be released back to work soon and not on permanent restrictions). - 5/7/2012 2:52:11 PM
  • PIXIESTIX6669
    This junk is nutritionally bereft and isn't on my radar...it's Frankenfood...I wouldn't feed it to pigeons... - 11/10/2011 11:55:12 AM
  • I would like to see us stop feeding this to our children. It's not good for them, either!!
    Plus it just makes them develop the taste for it. - 6/16/2011 6:00:11 PM
  • Like many others have stated, I also will purchase the value meal and split it amongst family members if I do hit a fast food restaurant. The last two times I've taken the kids I settled for a bite of each of their sandwiches and a fry or two...that usually satisfies my craving and I don't end up indulging in a meal that's going to make my calorie count over the top. - 5/26/2011 6:00:10 PM
  • Just wow ohhh and thank goodness I hate fast food, tastes disgusting.
    - 4/15/2011 3:40:23 PM
  • I never really did get my husband into sharing food with me... THAT would've been cool, being able to have the big burger, but only half of it. Somehow the Jr. Hamburgers at Wendys just leave me wanting more, not really getting my fix.

    Que Sera, Sera! I will simply avoid fast food. It's taken over 3 years for me to actually get to teh point where I'm going less than once a week. I used to fantasize about what I'd order, now I fantasize about the salad in my fridge. And when I'm tempted to stop for convenience, I think about how much the fast food is really NON-FOOD, since it barely contains any REAL food, and very little nutrients. Where is the fiber?

    It makes it a lot easier! I'm going to go add that to the secrets section, 'cause it really worked for me.
    Jocelyn - 3/13/2011 12:57:20 AM
  • MACHELLE14
    I often get strange looks from fast food employees when I place my order because I decline the sides or perks, which costs on pennies more but provide much more food. Originally, it was because I didn't eat them, but now, it is to remove the temptation of food that I didn't want in the first place. Having it our way is a good thing especially if our way is no way. - 10/29/2010 10:57:51 PM
  • This is great. I've never been much for fast food but the information is important for all. I am sending it to a friend to possibly use some of the information as a radio program. - 9/12/2010 7:05:23 PM
  • What a great article!-- I feel like I should paste it
    in front of my face!-----really good info in there! - 7/24/2010 8:40:53 PM
  • I am not one to frequent the fast food places on a regular basis due to the high caloric and fat content.
    However, every once in a while I will get a box meal from a place like Taco Bell and then I split it with my daughter. Then I get water instead of soda.
    There are ways to get past the high calories...just use a little sense in the choosing. - 4/16/2010 2:50:57 AM
  • Wow, didn't know that some of the meals, just need to pay a bit higher but actually lots of calories difference! I know that some of fast food restaurants like KFC and McD have their own nutrient lists at their branches but it's easy to forget they are around. But do the lists reliable? - 4/9/2010 1:05:53 AM
  • BETWEENUS
    Some the restaurants in my area are offering "meal deals" now, including AYCE specials. Thanks for the article, because it puts many things into perspective. - 12/20/2009 11:55:30 AM