No more super-size? Restaurants roll out ‘half-sizing’ to fight portion bloat

WASHINGTON — Remember super-sizing? It encouraged us to order even larger portions of fries and sugary sodas as a better value for our money.

Even though super-sizing is no longer commonplace at many fast food restaurants, portion bloat hasn’t disappeared from their menus. Today’s fast food servings are many times larger than they were decades ago, meaning we’re consuming far more calories and fat.

So now some restaurants are rolling out “half-sizing” — half a portion with half the calories.

Lean Plate Club blogger Sally Squires said this is a response to new government rules that will force many chain restaurants to post the calorie counts of their foods.

“If you see a half-portion, the calories don’t look quite as big, and it also might point you in that direction,” Squires said.

What remains to be seen is whether half-sizing will be equally attractive for price as it is for consuming fewer calories.

“Researchers have found that when healthy foods are the same price as the less healthy foods, there is more of a trend toward choosing the healthy options,” Squires said. “A Duke University study looked at half-sizing and found it could work to cut calories if the price was about half as much.”

The calorie information and other changes to menus have been years in the making and were supposed to go into effect at the end of this year. But the Food and Drug Administration recently pushed back the implementation deadline to May 2017.

The new rules for posting calorie information effects restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets that operate under the same name. Some large chains are ahead of the curve and already list calorie information.

But Squires said, so far, the research has found mixed results about how effective this information was in altering food choices.

“New York City has had mandatory menu labeling since 2008,” she said. “Initially people paid attention, but over time it didn’t drive people to healthier options, and it didn’t keep people from going to fast food restaurants.”

Another study in Phoenix found that people with higher incomes were twice as likely to notice the calories and three times more likely to choose food based on them.

In addition, there is evidence to suggest that labeling can prompt restaurants to reformulate their menus to offer lower-calorie options.

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