Small portion sizes in worksite cafeterias: do they help consumers to reduce their food intake?

Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Sep;35(9):1200-7. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.271. Epub 2011 Jan 11.


Background: Environmental interventions directed at portion size might help consumers to reduce their food intake.

Objective: To assess whether offering a smaller hot meal, in addition to the existing size, stimulates people to replace their large meal with a smaller meal.

Design: Longitudinal randomized controlled trial assessing the impact of introducing small portion sizes and pricing strategies on consumer choices.

Setting/participants: In all, 25 worksite cafeterias and a panel consisting of 308 consumers (mean age=39.18 years, 50% women).

Intervention: A small portion size of hot meals was offered in addition to the existing size. The meals were either proportionally priced (that is, the price per gram was comparable regardless of the size) or value size pricing was employed.

Main outcome measures: Daily sales of small and the total number of meals, consumers' self-reported compensation behavior and frequency of purchasing small meals.

Results: The ratio of small meals sales in relation to large meals sales was 10.2%. No effect of proportional pricing was found B=-0.11 (0.33), P=0.74, confidence interval (CI): -0.76 to 0.54). The consumer data indicated that 19.5% of the participants who had selected a small meal often-to-always purchased more products than usual in the worksite cafeteria. Small meal purchases were negatively related to being male (B=-0.85 (0.20), P=0.00, CI: -1.24 to -0.46, n=178).

Conclusion: When offering a small meal in addition to the existing size, a percentage of consumers that is considered reasonable were inclined to replace the large meal with the small meal. Proportional prices did not have an additional effect. The possible occurrence of compensation behavior is an issue that merits further attention.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Diet
  • Eating*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Restaurants*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace*
  • Young Adult