New safefood report reveals consumers think portion sizes only relevant when dieting

  • 1 in 3 find managing portion sizes difficult
  • Practical items like measuring cups and spoons key to understanding portions

16 February, 2015. Consumers regard portion sizes as being relevant only to those dieting, more important to women and not an issue for men or younger adults, a new report¹ from safefood published today reveals.  

The research led by a team from the University of Ulster, found that using practical, everyday items like measuring cups and different sized spoons were seen by consumers as being helpful in managing their portion sizes. Occasions such as eating with friends or eating out presented a challenge when trying to control portion sizes. The report “Consumer understanding of food portion sizes” also found that food products with health or nutrition claims like "low fat" or "reduced fat" may also be contributing to weight gain, as many people assume these products are lower in calories than they really are and consume a larger portion.

Commenting, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said:

While we are now familiar with the idea of healthy eating, we’re probably less familiar with the idea of healthy portion sizes. Traditionally, we’ve been brought up to finish everything on our plate and we tend to equate bigger portions with generosity and value. But with 2 in 3 adults overweight or obese², the issue of portion size is relevant to all of us and we need to cut down on the portions we’re eating of most foods”.

“Eating an extra 100 calories every day can lead to weight gain of 4.5kg in a year and this can easily happen. We know from previous research that some takeaway portions contain enough food for two people while the portion size of some manufactured products have increased significantly since the 1990s. And when it comes to foods with a ‘halo’ of being somehow healthier, these are viewed as a licence to enjoy a bigger portion.”

The research also revealed tips identified by consumers which they have found helpful in cutting down on their portion sizes – these included eating until satisfied (rather than full), filling up with water, vegetables or fruit and eating more slowly.

“When it comes to controlling their portion sizes, 1 in 3 people tell us it can be a challenge³ so we’re focusing on the home setting as that’s where we can have the greatest impact on the amount and type of foods we prepare and eat”, added Dr Foley-Nolan. “We’ve developed practical visual portion size guides on our website so consumers can find out just what size portions we should be eating for health.”

The research report Consumer understanding of food portion sizes is available to download from

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Muireann Kirby / Rachel Ahearne

Wilson Hartnell

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Dermot Moriarty/Julie Carroll


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¹“Consumer Understanding of Food Portion Sizes” (safefood 2015)

² National Adult Nutrition Survey (Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance; IUNA 2011)

³ Safetrak 15 survey of 800 adults on the island of Ireland (safefood; Millward Brown Lansdowne 2013)