10 Ways Americans and Europeans Differ


Supersize Me

couples in Amsterdam café
Portion sizes in Europe were traditionally much smaller than in the U.S., but they have been steadily increasing, along with obesity rates. Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images

Back in the 1990s in the U.S., a cheeseburger was 4.5 ounces (128 grams) and a soda was 6.5 ounces (192 milliliters). Fast-forward 20 years and the typical burger is now 8 ounces and the soda is 20 ounces [source: NHLBI]. No wonder 36.5 percent of Americans are obese [source: CDC].

Portion sizes in Europe are smaller on average than those found in the United States, where restaurant portions have doubled, even tripled in recent decades [source: NHLBI]. WebMD reported in 2003 that a portion size in Paris was 25 percent less than one in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, a typical soda drink in Philly was 52 percent larger than one in Paris.

But the bigger-is-better trend seems to be taking hold in Europe too. Portion sizes related to obesity have been less extensively studied there. But a 2014 study published in the journal Advances in Nutrition found that portion trends in Europe are mirroring American habits, especially in the arenas of fast food and snack foods [source: Livingstone].

Some 23 percent of women and 20 percent of men in the E.U. are obese and the numbers are growing [source: WHO]. Experts have called for the European Union to follow the U.S.'s lead and mandate serving sizes and nutritional information on food packages. This would avoid confusion, because as it stands now, individual brands can determine their own [source: Michail].