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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Mar;19(3):546-51. doi: 10.1038/oby.2010.233. Epub 2010 Oct 14.

Mechanisms behind the portion size effect: visibility and bite size.

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Department of Pediatrics, Section of Nutrition, University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, USA.


Increases in portion size lead to increases in energy intake, yet the mechanisms behind this "portion size effect" are unclear. This study tested possible mechanisms of the portion size effect, i.e., bite size and visual cues. A 2 × 2 repeated measures, within-subject design was used to test the effects of portion size (410 g vs. 820 g of a pasta dish) and visual cues (blindfolded vs. visible) on energy intake in 30 individuals (15 men, 15 women). At each meal participants were exposed to one of four experimental conditions (small portion/visible; small portion/blindfold; large portion/visible; large portion/blindfold). Participant characteristics, food intake, number of bites, meal duration, palatability measures and hunger and fullness were assessed. In response to a doubling of the portion presented, entrée energy intake increased 26% (220 kcal; P < 0.001) and mean bite size increased 2.4 g/bite (P < 0.05). Overweight (OW) individuals consumed 40% (334 kcal) more of the entrée in response to the large portion condition (P < 0.05), while lean individuals' intakes did not differ (P < 0.56). A 12% (122 kcal) decrease in entrée intake was observed in the blindfolded condition (P < 0.01), but no portion by visual cue interaction was found; indicating that blindfolding did not significantly attenuate the portion size effect. These data suggest that the portion size effect is not impacted by removing the visual cue of food and that this effect occurs via changes in bite size in adults.

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