Portion Distortion

19 October 2013        

Category: Research

Woman shopping for groceries at the supermarket

Individual curry ready meals and portions of crisps from family bags have ballooned in size by 50 per cent in the last 20 years, according to our new report into UK portion sizes.

Our Portion Distortion report compared the portion sizes of 245 products sold now with the portion sizes listed in a 1993 Food Standards Agency publication showing “typical weights and portions sizes of foods eaten in Britain’. The report findings show, compared to 1993, on average:

  • Individual shepherd’s pie ready meals have doubled in size, increasing by 98%
  • A stated portion of peanuts is 80% larger
  • Individual chicken curry ready meals are 53% larger
  • A portion of crisps from a family pack has increased by 50%
  • Individual chicken pies are 40% larger
  • Meat lasagne ready meals for one are 39% larger
  • A portion of garlic bread is 30% larger

The report reveals a portion of plain sweetmeal biscuits has increased in size by 17 per cent. It means if you were to eat one biscuit daily now, compared to 1993, you’d be adding 3,330 calories to your diet each year.

However, the report shows some portions sizes stated on pack have actually shrunk, including vanilla ice cream and oven chips.

Cardiovascular disease causes more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, more than 159,000 deaths each year.Poor diets can contribute significantly to the onset of heart disease – with diets that are high in fat, salt and sugar and low in fruit and vegetables accounting for 31 per cent of all deaths from CHD in developed countries.

We also found huge variations in portion sizes among different brands. For example, some individual cauliflower cheese ready meals were larger than the 235g 1993 portion but some were smaller.

An average portion of plain bagels has increased in size by a quarter (24%) but portions again varied across different brands, meaning if you eat one bagel a day and opt for the smallest portion size on offer you could avoid a potential weight gain of 5½ lbs over the year.

Taking control

Our Chief Executive Simon Gillespie said: “Portion sizes in the UK are often inconsistent and misleading and we need to take control. It’s important we get portion sizes on products right because when people are presented with more food, they eat more food.

“The UK Government has not updated its information on typical portion sizes for 20 years and there is currently no legislation relating to portion sizes. It’s time for an urgent review so the portion size playing field is levelled and consumers can be helped to make healthier choices.”

Victoria Taylor, our Senior Dietitian, added: “The portion information on the new front-of-pack labelling system is only as accurate as the information it’s based on. It’s vital these labels use consistent and realistic portions so shoppers know exactly what they’re getting.”