Cox JS, Hinton EC, Sauchelli S, Hamilton-Shield JP, Lawrence NS, Brunstrom JM. When do children learn how to select a portion size? Appetite. 2021 Sep 1;164:105247. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105247

The reduction of portion sizes supports weight-loss. This study looks at whether children have a conceptual understanding of portion size, by studying their ability to manually serve a portion size that corresponds to what they eat. In a clinical setting, discussion around portion size is subjective thus a computerised portion size tool is also trialled, with the portion sizes chosen on the screen being compared to amounts served manually. Children (n = 76) age 5-6, 7-8 and 10-11 were asked to rate their hunger (VAS scale), liking (VAS scale) and 'ideal portion size for lunch' of eight interactive meal images using a computerised portion size tool. Children then manually self-served and consumed a portion of pasta. Plates were weighed to allow for the calculation of calories served and eaten. A positive correlation was found between manually served food portions and the amount eaten (r = 0.53, 95%CI [0.34, 0.82, P < .001), indicating that many children were able to anticipate their likely food intake prior to meal onset. A regression model demonstrates that age contributes to 9.4% of the variance in portion size accuracy (t(68) = -2.3, p = .02). There was no relationship between portion size and either hunger or liking. The portion sizes chosen on the computer at lunchtime correlated to the amount manually served overall (r = .34, 95%CI [0.07, 0.55], p < .01), but not in 5-6-year-old children. Manual portion-size selection can be observed in five-year olds and from age seven, children's 'virtual' responses correlate with their manual portion selections. The application of the computerised portion-size tool requires further development but offers considerable potential.

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