In a study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers from the Technical University of Lisbon in Portugal suggest that single-serve packages do little to curb overeating and may actually lead consumers to eat more.
To determine the impact of smaller, individually packaged food items on overall consumption, researchers in one experiment asked students to consider their body shape and then gave them potato chips and instructed them to watch television. According to researchers, the students ate nearly twice as many chips when they were packaged in nine small bags as opposed to two larger ones. In addition, the students in the experiment showed fewer signs of hesitation before opening the smaller bags than they did when opening the larger ones.
Aptly titled “Flying Under the Radar,” the study concludes that smaller serving sizes of tempting foods – such as potato chips and ice cream – are more likely to go unnoticed than foods in larger portion sizes, leading to over-consumption and a reduced sense of what the researchers call “self-control conflict,” which is thought to prevent many of us from overeating.
This study (PDF) runs counter to a November 2007 study conducted by a marketing professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., that suggested that when food is “partitioned” into smaller servings, people actually eat less. In this study, for example, it took study participants given a box of cookies six days to finish the whole thing, while those given the same quantity of individually wrapped cookies took an average of 24 days to polish off the box.
While both studies present a compelling argument regarding the pros and cons of reduced serving size foods, the bigger issue is the snacks themselves. Just because an Oreo comes in a 100 calorie packet, it’s still the same, nutritionally speaking, as eating about two regular Oreos.
You could argue that much of the allure of the single-serving packets is that they are portable and convenient and, while we’re inclined to agree, is it really that taxing to throw some almonds or walnuts in your bag? Not only are these foods equally – if not more – convenient, they are also cheaper, more filling (seriously, a 100 calorie packet of cheese doodles isn’t going to get you through that late afternoon slump!) and far, far healthier!
Our verdict? If you can’t cut out your snack foods altogether, when it comes to serving size, it might just be better to “go big or go home” (although, admittedly, we’ll always vote for you to just go home and have a salad or something…)