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:
According to the report, the practice of "bundling"—turning a fast-food sandwich into a "value meal" by adding sides like fries and a soft drink-is responsible for some of the largest increases in calorie content. And fountain drinks proved to be especially bad health bargains. They cost the least to upgrade and deliver the biggest calorie boosts (and they provide some of the highest profit margins for retailers).
Have It Your Way
"So what can consumers do right now?" asked Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research. "We can speak up. Say 'small,' say 'half,' and share."
By speaking out, Polk said, consumers let the food marketer know that they want healthy meals. "Order a small or half-size. Share that bucket of fries or bladder-bursting drink with friends. Keeping those extra cents in your wallet means keeping extra pounds off your body, and that's more important than ever."
"If you walked into a McDonald's in the 1950s and ordered a burger, fries and a 12-ounce coke, you'd have bought a meal with about 590 calories," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. "Today a popular super-sized meal may contain 1,000 calories more. As a result, we're super sizing our kids and super sizing ourselves."
That's why consumers should decline to take advantage of "more-for-less" marketing practices, even if it may seem cost-ineffective, says Polk. "It's penny-wise and pound-foolish to order more food than you really want, just because it seems like a bargain," she says. "Let restaurateurs and retailers know that you want reasonable portions at reasonable prices. After all, restaurants pride themselves on responding to customer demand."