Meals in the U.S. actually had fewer calories than those in four out of the five countries we were compared to.

By Mike Pomranz
December 13, 2018
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America often gets lambasted as the home of excessively large portions — and from examples like McDonald's former "Supersize" glory to Claim Jumpers' purposely massive meals, it's a reputation we've often earned. However, though overeating may be an American stereotype, a new paper published in the journal The BMJ suggests that large restaurant portions are actually a global problem.

For the study, researchers specifically honed in on five countries — Brazil, China, Finland, Ghana, and India — measuring some of the most frequently ordered meals from both full service and fast food restaurants and then comparing those numbers to existing data in the United States. (Admittedly, it's far from an extensive list, but the study implies that these nations create a sufficient swath.) As far as America's reputation as the worst offender, the paper determined that actually only China had an average restaurant calorie count lower than the U.S. The average Chinese meal was 719 calories compared to 1088 calories here.

But even China's average of 719 calories was significantly higher than the 600-calories-per-meal benchmark that some researchers suggest should be used to help reduce the global obesity epidemic. Overall, the report found that 94 percent of meals from full service restaurants and 72 percent of fast food meals contained 600 calories or more regardless of which country they were served in. Meanwhile, 3 percent of meals served at full service restaurants across four countries contained a stomach-popping 2000 calories or more.

"Current average portion sizes are high in relation to calorie requirements and recommendations globally," Susan B. Roberts, a senior scientist and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and one of the paper's authors, said in a statement. "Eating out is now common around the world, but it is important to keep in mind that it is easy to overeat when a large restaurant meal is likely to be only one of several meals and snacks consumed that day."

Mayer also added that chains like McDonald's may not deserve as much blame as they receive. "Fast food has been widely cited as an easy target for diet change because of its high calorie content," she stated; "however, previous work by our team in the U.S. identified restaurant meals in general as an important target for interventions to address obesity." This time around, her research team found that fast food meals actually tended to contain a third fewer calories than meals at full service restaurants.

All that being said, nothing in the report is really "good" news — unless you consider "it's still bad but not as bad as you thought it was" to be good news. Instead, the takeaway is intended to be that we all need to try to be more conscientious eaters, not just Americans and not just those of us in the drive-thru line.

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