By Anna Gryka, Obesity Action Scotland
The book I referred to most often as a nutrition student was the Food Portion Sizes booklet by the Food Standards Agency, an irreplaceable source of information when analysing a food diary. This booklet has the answers. All I had to do was to enter weights of food and drink into the nutrition analysis software and voila! I knew everything about the diet of a patient: calories, macronutrient composition, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and more.
Eating out of the home has become a regular part of our modern lives, with up to a quarter of calories eaten out of the home in the UK. Food Standards Scotland reported that chips are the food item most commonly purchased out of the home in Scotland. We were interested what impact chip consumption might have on obesity. So we went to thirty takeaway shops in Glasgow, bought all available portion sizes of chips and weighed them (the ‘Chips To Go’ study).
The findings were shocking. Firstly, there was a wide variation in available portion sizes: from 120g to 755g. Secondly, we estimated calorie content of an average portion of chips (380g) and found that it contained around half of a woman’s daily recommended calorie intake. Finally, we compared today’s average portion to the typical serving of chips from the FSA booklet. Our average portion of chips was 80% bigger than the FSA booklet portion size. Why? The year of publication gives a hint. The latest edition of the booklet is from 2002 i.e. from 2002-2018 “normal” portion of chips shifted from 210g to 380g.
There is a worldwide obesity crisis. In Scotland, 65% of people carry excess weight. It is not only up to the health service to fix it. We all need to fix it. There is an important role for the out of home sector too and it is urgent. Menus should be labelled with calories so people know what they’re eating, there should always be a choice of smaller portions, and healthier foods should be promoted.