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Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Apr 12. pii: nqy383. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy383. [Epub ahead of print]

Portion size has sustained effects over 5 days in preschool children: a randomized trial.

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Departments of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.
Departments of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.



Although short-term studies have found that serving larger portions of food increases intake in preschool children, it is unknown whether this portion size effect persists over a longer period or whether energy intake is moderated through self-regulation.


We tested whether the portion size effect is sustained in preschool children across 5 consecutive days, a period thought to be sufficient for regulatory systems to respond to the overconsumption of energy.


With the use of a crossover design, over 2 periods we served the same 5 daily menus to 46 children aged 3-5 y in their childcare centers. In 1 period, all foods and milk were served in baseline portions, and in the other period, all portions were increased by 50%. The served items were weighed to determine intake.


Increasing the portion size of all foods and milk by 50% increased daily consumption: weighed intake increased by a mean ± SEM of 143 ± 21 g/d (16%) and energy intake increased by 167 ± 22 kcal/d (18%; both P < 0.0001). The trajectories of intake by weight and energy across the 5-day period were linear and the slopes did not differ between portion conditions (both P > 0.13), indicating that there were sustained increases in intake from larger portions without compensatory changes over time. Children differed in their response to increased portions: those with higher weight status, lower ratings for satiety responsiveness, or higher ratings for food responsiveness had greater increases in intake from larger portions (all P < 0.03).


This demonstration that preschool children failed to adjust their intake during prolonged exposure to larger portions challenges the suggestion that their self-regulatory behavior is sufficient to counter perturbations in energy intake. Furthermore, overconsumption from large portions may play a role in the development of overweight and obesity, as the magnitude of the effect was greater in children of higher weight status. This trial was registered at as NCT02963987.


eating behavior; energy intake; obesity; portion size; preschool children


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