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Consumer views on portion size guidance to assist adult dietary choices

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The Eatwell Plate (FSA, 2007) is the current national food guide model recommended for use in Scotland. The model is essentially qualitative and introduces the five main food groups used in nutritional planning, illustrates the types of foods and drinks contained within each group and indicates the recommended ‘balance’ between these groups for a healthy diet. However, it is recognised that a useful practical addition to the model may be the inclusion of quantitative guidance on portion sizes of commonly consumed foods. The current work is part of a programme which aims to ascertain the perceived utility of portion size tools in the general public and health professionals. Methods: 

Six single gender focus group discussions, quota sampled by age, gender and socio-economic status were undertaken in urban areas of central Scotland. Flexible and open-ended questioning procedures were used to stimulate discussion followed by the use of prompt materials to encourage active reflection. Discussions focussed on the issues of identifying and attaining appropriate portion sizes and on what type of tools might be helpful in identifying them (e.g. household measures plus/minus specific written and numerical information). The interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed for content analysis on perceived need for guidance and practical ideas for assistance. Results: 

Overall,participants understood that the general concept of ‘portion weight guidance’ might be a helpful guide towards selecting appropriate quantities of foods. However, it was clear that several individuals thought that although guidance for the public in general was acceptable it was unnecessary for them personally. The main reasons given for not personally wishing quantitative guidance were perceptions of already ‘knowing’ appropriate amounts to serve, inability to identify credible and consistent guidance which can be applied to meet the requirements of individuals, and a perception that the breadth of food guidance may be very large to be comprehensible. With respect to the design of the tool, participants stated a preference for simple messages (avoiding technical terminology) with clear, consistent and memorable statements. In addition, it was felt that portions should be depicted in context of overall daily intake (as opposed to per meal) using visually attractive material (e.g. use of colour/pictures/minimal use of words). Communications should also take account of individual differences in daily requirements. Discussion on routes for communicating portion size guidance arising from prompts provided (e.g. the Eatwell Plate) suggested that a simple fridge magnet card or leaflet would be more desirable than websites, information on food labels and detailed plate models. Discussion: 

The research showed that there is interest in portion size guidance amongst consumers. Tools to assist dietary choices should be simple, compact, easy to use and present consistent and memorable information with flexibility for individual requirements. Conclusion: 

It is timely to explore ways in which the Eatwell Plate model can be expanded to include quantitiative guidance to aid the selection of a healthy balanced diet.

This study was funded by NHS Health Scotland. Reference 

Food Standards Agency (2007) Food Standards AgencyEatwell Plate. Available at (accessed on 29 January 2008).

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Centre for Public Health Nutrition Research, University of Dundee, UK 2: Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling, UK, Email:

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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