by Joni Astrup
Buy a bagel, a cheeseburger or an order of fries, and you may not realize you are getting a supersized version without even asking for it.
Twenty years ago the typical bagel was three inches in diameter and 140 calories. Today it’s six inches in diameter and 350 calories.
Ditto for cheeseburgers, fries and pop.
“Our portion sizes have gradually increased,” said Rebecca Lindberg, a registered dietitian who spoke March 22 at the first of three healthy worksites seminars at the Sherburne County Government Center in Elk River (See If You Go below). The first session dealt with healthy eating and improving the workplace food environment.
Lindberg outlined how eating has evolved in America over the years.
She described how ever-increasing portion sizes have led to portion distortion. “What we think of as an average portion size has changed,” Lindberg explained.
Even cookbooks are reflecting the new normal, with serving sizes getting larger in new cookbooks.
Plate sizes have increased as well. Twenty years ago the typical dinner plate was about nine inches in diameter. Now it’s 12 inches or 15 inches at a restaurant.
Plate size is important because people tend to fill their plates and eat about 92 percent of what’s on their plate, Lindberg said.
She said lots of things influence what and how much people eat, and it’s not always hunger.
A study of people in Paris and Chicago found that the French quit eating when they were no longer hungry. The Americans quit eating either when the food was gone or the television show they were watching was over.
Other things also influence what and how much people eat.
Take new eating opportunities, for instance. Thirty years ago specialty coffee didn’t even exist, Lindberg said, but now can be a source of significant calories. Specialty coffee can have upwards of 500 calories. One coffee chain is launching a new coffee that’s 31 ounces in size, which is roughly the capacity of the human stomach, Lindberg said. Make that a latte, and it would contain a full quart of milk.
An increase in low-cost convenience foods also influences food choices because a family can eat out at a fast-food restaurant pretty reasonably, Lindberg said.
Obesity rates on the rise in America
Obesity rates are climbing in the United States, yet most people are well aware and knowledgeable about the importance of exercise and healthy eating, Lindberg said.
Sixty-nine percent of people who are obese want to lose weight. But people trying to lose are often feel stuck and unsupported, she said.
Improving healthy food choices at work is one place to start.
Lindberg said a healthy culture is clearly communicated, seen in action and words and tied to the corporate mission.
She outlined four key approaches to improving food choices at work:
•Availability: Make healthy choices available where ever food is served. That means more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, getting away from trans fat and dialing back on salt and sugar. It could mean offering smaller portions in the cafeteria, serving fruit and donuts on Fridays instead of just donuts, encouraging people to drink water rather than pop, serving box lunches with a healthier side than potato chips or offering some healthier foods in the vending machine.
•Identification: Make sure people know about healthy choices at work. Label whole grain breads and low-sodium soups in the cafeteria, offer healthy foods in the areas where employees congregate or change out the promotional label on the side of the pop machine to advertise water rather than a type of pop.
•Appeal: The number one reason people make a healthy choice is taste, so make sure healthy food is also appealing. Lindberg gave the example of “hydration stations” which offer water with sliced lemons and limes or other fruit to make water more appealing. Price cuts can also motivate people to choose more healthy alternatives. Examples include discounted “wellness meals” in the cafeteria on certain days or discounting the price of healthy items in vending machines.
•Wellness policies: Companies can show a commitment to healthy eating at work by giving guidelines through corporate policies and making sure employees are aware of them.
Near the end of the two-hour session, Lindberg went around the room to see what changes people planned to implement in their workplaces.
The ideas included:
•Putting out free bottled water at employee lunches. Now only pop is offered.
•Adding bottled water as one of the options in the pop machine.
•Serving smaller cookies at meetings and offering fruit as well.
•Starting to offer some healthy choices in the vending machine.
•Seeing that sandwiches served at meetings are on whole grain bread. Offering alternatives to sandwiches and chips, like salads.
•Having farmer’s market in the parking lot or being a drop site for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares.
How servings have changed
20 years ago Now
Bagel 3 inches in diameter 6 inches in diameter
140 calories 350 calories
Cheeseburger 333 calories 590 calories
Soda 6.5 ounces 20 ounces
85 calories 300 calories
Fries 2.4 ounces 6.9 ounces
210 calories 610 calories
Source: Rebecca Lindberg, registered dietitian
If you go
What: Creating a Culture of Health in the Workplace
When: 9-11 a.m. April 20: Creating a Tobacco-Free Workplace and 9-11 a.m. May 20: Physical Activity During the Workday.
Where: Sherburne County Government Center, 13880 Business Center Dr., Elk River
Registration: Go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8N2H3P9
For more information: Call Matt Jackson at Sherburne County Health and Human Services at 763-241-2767 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sherburne County Health and Human Services is presenting the seminars as part of the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). The sessions are presented by the Healthy Worksites consulting team from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.