America’s ever-expanding meal portions

It’s not too surprising to learn that U.S. meal sizes have ballooned in the past several decades—anyone who has attempted to finish a meal recently at TGI Friday’s knows that. But have you ever actually seen the differences laid out in front of you? Yesterday, while reading a paper about gender differences in heart disease, I stumbled across a table derived from National Heart Lung and Blood Institute data that compared, side-by-side, just how much more calorie-laden a variety of common American meals are today compared to 20 years ago. Here is the table, which comes from Cheryl Hermann’s paper, “Raising Awareness of Women and Heart Disease—Women’s Hearts are Different,” published in 2008 in Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America. Amazing (and disturbing), right?

Food Increase in calories in the last 20 years Amount of exercise to burn off the extra calories
Bagel 210 50 minutes of raking leaves (130-lb person)
Cheeseburger 257 1.5 hours of lifting weights (130-lb person)
French fries 400 1.3 hours of walking (160-lb person)
Soda 165 35 minutes of garden work (160-lb person)
Spaghetti and meatballs 525 2 hours & 25 minutes of housecleaning (130-lb person)
Turkey sandwich 500 1 hour and 25 minutes of biking (160-lb person)
Coffee 305 1.3 hours of walking (130-lb person)
Caesar salad 400 1.3 hours of walking (160-lb person)
Popcorn 360 1.25 hours of water aerobics (160-lb person)
Chicken stir fry 460 1.1 hours of aerobic dancing (130-lb person)


Herrmann C (2008). Raising awareness of women and heart disease–women’s hearts are different. Critical care nursing clinics of North America, 20 (3), 251-63 PMID: 18644507

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6 Responses to America’s ever-expanding meal portions

  1. aek says:

    It would be interesting to note how much added sugar was in the foods at both measurement periods. Methinks that it’s probable that there is correlation with that, appetite/insulin/hormonal dysregulation, overall caloric increase and increased ingestion frequencies and amounts.

  2. Sciencemike says:

    Did you see the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2010 Xtreme Eating awards? The worst meals at restaurants around the country. My favorite is the last one:

    — The Cheesecake Factory’s pasta carbonara.

    The numbers: 2,500 calories, 85 grams of saturated fat.

    Equivalent of eating: The saturated fat in about five cups of half-and-half cream.

  3. marcuf says:

    poorly digestible sugars vs. less processed complex carbs and produce, depressive/comfort eating/time filler/sedentary life requirements

  4. Eva says:

    I like how random the activities are. “I must rake leaves for 50 minutes to account for this big bagel… Oh no, we only have one small tree – and it’s summer!”

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