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Portion Control Plates Don’t Reduce Calories for Overweight Teen Girls

Diet education for these teens should be "clear, simple, repeated, and interesting"….

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The study involved 162 girls ages 14-18 located in the Greater Hartford area. The girls were categorized by body mass and tested on their attentiveness and perception of a constant portion size relative to varying plate sizes. The girls were asked to judge a circle’s size within a larger circle. These two circles represented a food serving and a dinner plate, respectively. The diameter of the larger circle was increased to stimulate an illusion of a shrinking food serving. In a separate control, that did not involve any visual illusion, the girls’ brain waves were measured while they were being asked to differentiate between several different visual objects.

The results from the study showed that, on average, overweight or obese teen girls were less attentive than normal weight teens to visual cues of different types –suggesting that changing the plate size may be less effective than we originally thought.

The study suggests that presenting teens with detailed diet rules or calorie counts might not be as effective; advocating diet education for these overweight or obese teens should be "clear, simple, repeated, and interesting." The authors also suggest that incorporating information about the patient’s cognitive abilities, like the problem of inattention or distraction, into his or her weight loss treatment would be the next step.

Practice Pearls:

  • Smaller plates do not equal smaller portions in overweight or obese teenage girls.
  • These teen girls are less attentive to visual cues compared to normal weight teens.
  • Diet education for these teens should be "clear, simple, repeated, and interesting"

American Psychosomatic Society. "Smaller dinnerplates might not be an effective intervention for childhood obesity" American Psychosomatic Society, March 2015. http://www.psychosomatic.org/AnMeeting/2015/pressreleases.cfm.