Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week: Portion Size

13 October 2017

Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking and Scotland is one of the most obese nations in the OECD.

This is bad news as obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer including 2 of the most common; breast and bowel, and 2 of the hardest to treat; pancreatic and oesophageal.

Research shows that in the UK sizes of ready meals and fast foods are increasing, and increasing portion size results in more calories consumed.

For example, a report by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found an individual chicken pie was 40% larger and a chicken curry with rice was 53% larger compared to 1993. 

This has a double-whammy effect on how much we eat as there becomes a tendency to eat larger portions and overestimate the amount that should be eaten, and increasing portion sizes shape public views of what is a normal amount to eat. Yet eliminating large portions from our diet could reduce average daily energy intake among UK adults by 16%.

Packaging of food and drink does not always encourage consumption of portion sizes recommended in the UK. The suggested portion of fruit or vegetable juice is 150ml; however, small cartons usually contain 200ml.

The food industry should consider the following:

  • Introduction of calorie caps, varying container sizes and a greater price differential between large and small portions
  • Adopting ‘front of packet’ food labelling, ensuring that portion sizes are standardised, clearly labelled and easy to understand
  • Promote consumption of appropriate portion sizes by matching size of single portions with the recommended ones, marking on the side of packaging or other clear labelling

As part of Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week we are calling for the Scottish Government tackle growing portion size in the places where we eat out.

Statistics in this post have been taken from our briefing paper entitled ‘OBESITY and PORTION SIZE’, available to download as a pdf.