The ecology of eating: smaller portion sizes in France Than in the United States help explain the French paradox

Psychol Sci. 2003 Sep;14(5):450-4. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.02452.


Part of the "French paradox" can be explained by the fact that the French eat less than Americans. We document that French portion sizes are smaller in comparable restaurants, in the sizes of individual portions of foods (but not other items) in supermarkets, in portions specified in cookbooks, and in the prominence of "all you can eat" restaurants in dining guides. We also present data, from observations at McDonald's, that the French take longer to eat than Americans. Our results suggest that in the domain of eating, and more generally, more attention should be paid to ecological factors, even though their mechanism of operation is transparent, and hence less revealing of fundamental psychological processes. Ironically, although the French eat less than Americans, they seem to eat for a longer period of time, and hence have more food experience. The French can have their cake and eat it as well.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Coronary Disease / blood
  • Coronary Disease / mortality*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Energy Intake* / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior* / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Paris
  • Philadelphia
  • Restaurants
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment*


  • Cholesterol