Walk into a Chili’s anywhere, and you can order one of the restaurant chain’s signature “Big Mouth Burgers,” served with French fries “piled high” on the side. You’ll likely want to wash it down with a large soda. Finish the gargantuan meal and you’re on the hook for nearly 3,000 calories and more than 6,000 mg of sodium. Even if you pass on the soda refill, you’ll still ingest nearly 70 grams of sugar from just one glass of the sugary beverage.
Think about how often the above scenario plays out each week in America. When you consider that the average restaurant burger-fries-soda combo is four times as big as its 1950s counterpart—according to research released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—you’ll be reminded again why we are the fattest nation on Earth.
According to the research, presented in an eye-opening infographic, the average size of a burger in the 1950s was 3.9 oz.; fries were 2.4 oz.; and a soda was 7 oz. By comparison, when today’s Americans go out to eat, we consume a burger that is, on average, a whopping 12 oz.; scarf 6.7 oz. of fries; and down an eye-popping 42 oz. of soda.
Americans are, on average, 26 pounds heavier than they were mid-century.
The results come as no shock. Americans are, on average, 26 pounds heavier than they were mid-century. By 2030, nearly half—42 percent—of Americans will be obese, according to another CDC study released in early May.
The CDC encourages consumers to request smaller portion sizes at the restaurants they frequent. Indeed, in a statement responding to the CDC report on portion sizes, a brand spokesperson attributes Chili’s large portion sizes to “consumer market trends.” In other words, we the (fat) people want more food on our plates.
“Ultimately, we shape our business decisions and menu strategies by listening to our guests of all ages, through both quantitative and qualitative research,” a Chili’s spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the chain continues to offer meals to share and 6 oz. steaks.
To improve portion control while eating out, the CDC recommends ordering smaller meals from the menu, splitting a meal with a friend, or eating half and taking the rest home.
The CDC partnered recently with HBO and the Institute of Medicine to produce a four-part documentary series called The Weight of the Nation, which examines the “scope of the obesity epidemic and explores the serious health consequences of being overweight or obese.” After originally airing on HBO, the entire series is now available to stream online for free.
The answer to these worrying statistics is, as always, simple: Eat less, exercise more. And if you eat out, it might be smart to ask for a to-go box.
Do you clean your plate when you go out to eat?
Steve's story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011. His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places. Email Steve | @thebostonwriter