Ultraprocessed foods and beverages, including chocolate, french fries, fast-food hamburgers and soda, are being sold in sizes up to five times larger than when they were first introduced, according to a December 2021 study in the American Journal of Public Health
. Ultraprocessed foods are industrial formulations that typically contain five or more ingredients, and may contain, for example, hydrogenated oils, dyes or flavor enhancers
that are not found in other processed foods, according to the Nova food classification system
designed by the Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition at University of São Paulo's School of Public Health.
Hershey's chocolate bars range in size from about a half an ounce to 7 ounces
. (The 7-ounce bar, labeled as 8 servings, delivers close to 1,000 calories
The original McDonald's burger patty -- from 1955 -- had 1.6 ounces. While the original patty size has not changed, today the chain offers two 4-ounce patties in its Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
for a total of 8 ounces of beef in a single order. And the fast-food company introduced in 2020 a Double Big Mac burger with four patties and more than 700 calories
If that calorie count gives you pause, consider Burger King's triple Whopper with cheese
, which has nearly 1,300 calories. "It's enough calories for an entire day for some people," registered dietitian and lead study author Lisa Young said.
Even though smaller sizes are still offered, the availability of larger beverage sizes has also increased. Coca-Cola drinks are now sold in different sizes ranging from 7.5 fluid ounces to 24 fluid ounces. The original bottle had 6.5 fluid ounces, according to the study.
"It's no surprise so many of us are overweight because it is so easy to be that way," said Young, who is also an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. "It is hard to stick to normal portions when you are bombarded with these ridiculous sizes."
Consuming very large portions on a regular basis, beyond your individual calorie needs, can lead to obesity and its related health consequences including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes as well as other conditions such as sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and gallbladder disease
. Some 74% of the US population is overweight or has obesity
, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food and beverage ingredients are cheap relative to other expenses, such as rent, staff, equipment, production and marketing, so it doesn't cost manufacturers much to offer a bigger portion of food, Young explained.
"Consumers are happy because even though they pay a little more for a big portion, they get much more food. So, it appears like a win-win, except big portions are not good for your waistline," Young said.
Food companies stress that customers can choose from a wide range of options.
"Hershey has always offered a wide variety of portioned sizes and more permissible options," said Jeff Beckman, spokesperson for The Hershey Company, in response to the study's findings, via email. "Over the years, we have expanded our offerings, including ... small snack-size bars introduced in the 1970s and more recently, our many 'thins' offerings, which gives consumers a way to enjoy their favorite Hershey brands in portioned pieces."
"By offering more drinks ... in different packaging sizes, we are giving more choice to our consumers to pick beverages that fit their lifestyles and needs," said Ann Moore, a spokesperson for The Coca-Cola Company.
Burger King and McDonald's both say they offer a variety of portion sizes across their product portfolios and include nutrition information for menu items.
"When we tell our Guests 'Have it Your Way' -- we mean it ... and nutrition information for all menu items is readily accessible and easy to digest -- our online nutrition to
ol allows Guests to search, filter and identify menu options quickly and easily," a Burger King spokesperson said via email.
McDonald's also offers a variety of portion sizes across its portfolio of choices to customers, according to a company statement emailed to CNN. "McDonald's USA is committed to transparency and providing customers the information they need to make choices that are right for them." The company posts calories on menu boards and provides ingredient and nutrition information
on the company's website, app and in-restaurant kiosks.
When you are served larger portions or purchase foods in larger sizes, you might assume that the amount you are getting is the amount that you should eat.