Poster Topical Area: Community and Public Health Nutrition

Location: Auditorium

Poster Board Number: 101

P06-080 - Exploring Children’s Understandings of Healthy Portion Sizes

Monday, Jun 11
8:00 AM – 3:00 PM


To examine elementary school-age children's cognitions related to healthy portion sizes.


Forty-four children (6-11 years old) residing in 3 states (FL, NJ, WV) participated in portion size-themed focus group discussions. Trained researchers content analyzed data to identify trends and themes.


Focus group discussions revealed that children believe eating age appropriate portion sizes is important for maintaining a healthy weight and staying healthy. However, children felt that the decision of how much they should eat is up to their parents, citing that parents fix children's plates and therefore determine the portion size. Children believe the portion sizes parents serve are based on parents' past experiences or teachings from their own parents. The amount children decide to consume is influenced by cues from parents, such as warnings to not eat too much or waiting to see if kids are full before offering seconds, in essence, relying on children's internal satiety signals. Children reported that parents think it is important for kids to eat healthy amounts of food to be healthy and not hungry. Children noted that barriers to keeping portion sizes healthy depended on the food type: for foods they enjoyed, it was easy to eat too much; if they didn't like the food, even if it was healthy, children would not eat a full portion. Children reported incentives from parents would encourage them to eat full servings of healthy foods (e.g., dessert if kids ate all of their vegetables at dinner). Further barriers to eating healthy portions included eating too much if kids got too hungry and not eating enough if they were too tired. Children felt parent encouragement and asking the opinions of those they trust about the food was the best way to encourage them to try new, healthy foods. Some children did not believe that how much they ate affected family members, but reported that siblings copied their behavior, especially younger siblings.


Children recognize the importance of eating age-appropriate portions and look to their parents to set those guidelines. Obesity prevention programs could help parents learn appropriate portion sizes to help children grow and develop normally while also maintaining healthy weights.

Funding Source:

United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Grant Number 2017-680001-26351

CoAuthors: Miriam Leary – West Virginia University; Colleen Delaney – Rutgers University; Kaitlyn Eck – Rutgers University; Karla Shelnutt – University of Florida; Carol Byrd-Brebenner – Rutgers University; Melissa Olfert – West Virginia University

Miriam P. Leary

Post-doc Fellow
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia