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Smaller Plate Study

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The Smaller Plate Study is an abbreviated title for an experimental study conducted by Dr Brian Wansink and Dr Koert van Ittersum: The Perils of Large Plates: Waist, Waste, and Wallet. The results claim that using 10 inch diameter plates instead of the traditional 12 inch diameter plates decrease the amount of food people eat without having an effect on their perceived fullness or satisfaction.[1]


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The Delboeuf illusion: the black circle appears smaller when surrounded by a white circle

Studies by professor Brian Wansink, founder of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab have observed that people serve themselves in proportion to the plate size that they have been given. For example, while 3 ounces of pasta on a 10 inch plate look like a sizeable portion, the same amount on a 12 inch plate looks comparatively much smaller. This is thought to occur as a result of the Delboeuf illusion, whereby the size of the dinnerware creates two opposing biases that lead people to over-serve on larger plates and bowls and underserve on smaller ones.[2][3]

As a result, a person tends to over-serve onto larger plates, and because people consume 92% of what they serve themselves, larger plates lead to larger food intake.[4][5]

The study found that reducing plate size from 12 inches to 10 inches typically results in 22% less calories being served, as the smaller plate makes a normal serving seem more filling.[2][6] However, the study found a lower limit for the effect; once plate size went below 9.5 inches "people begin to realize they're tricking themselves and go back for seconds and thirds."[7]

The study predicted that using a 10 inch plate for a year would lead to a weight loss of 18 pounds for the average adult.[8][9]

Smaller Plate Movement[edit]

The Family Initiative aimed to encourage consumers to reduce the size of their dinner plates from the average 12 inch plate most people have in their cupboards to a more reasonable size of 10 inches.[10]

While the basic Consumer Initiative is an ongoing education campaign, one focus of the campaign is the Small Plate Challenge, run jointly by several organizations, which asks consumers to commit to using smaller (10 inch) dinner plates for the largest meal of their day for one month.[11]

Albert Lea, an 18,000 person town in Minnesota was chosen to show how simple portion control solutions could be adapted to everyday life as part of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project. Over 2,000 families agreed to use the principles from Wansink's book Mindless Eating, which included the Smaller Plate challenge.[12]

The life expectancy of 786 evaluated residents rose by an average of 3.1 years, they lost an average of two pounds, ate more vegetables and were more physically active.[13] All said they felt healthier—physically and emotionally when the project ended in October 2009.[14]


Cornell University researchers launched the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC), an online healthy eating and weight loss program which focused on simple eating behavior changes instead of dieting, which included eating off of smaller plates. "Of the 2,053 people who initially signed up for the NMEC, 504 completed at least one follow-up survey. Most of them (83%) had weight loss as their goal. The rest wanted to eat healthier (10%), maintain weight (5%), or help their family eat better (2%). Over the course of the program, more than two thirds of participants either lost weight (42%) or maintained their weight (27%), and weight loss was highest among people who made changes consistently. Those whose adherence was 25+ days per month reported an average monthly weight loss of 2.0 pounds, and those who stayed in the program for at least three months and completed at least two follow-up surveys lost on average 1.0% of their initial weight."

It was found that common barriers that prevented people from using the smaller plate rule included: forgetting, being too busy, unusual circumstances such as vacations, and emotional eating.[15]

The University of Connecticut conducted a study of 162 girls between 14 and 18 years old. Professor Lance Bauer found that overweight or obese teenage girls did not pay as much attention to the visual appearance of their food as normal weight girls. This suggests that changing the size of their plates may not be an effective dietary solution for this particular group.[16]

A study conducted by Jennifer Owlet Fisher at Temple's Centre for Obesity Research and Education, published in the Paediatrics Journal found that first-graders served themselves on average 90 calories less when they used smaller plates (7.25 inches - the size of a salad plate). These findings suggest that using a smaller plate could help to fight childhood obesity, although Fisher took care to state that she does not "think that simply swapping a large plate for a small plate is the answer to controlling eating."[17]

The Penn State Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness said that evidence for the program was mixed. They reported on the original Cornell studies, but then said: "Two studies conducted by independent research groups present evidence that doesn’t support the Small Plate Movement. Both of these studies measured how much participants ate during a meal when they were given different sizes of dinnerware. In both studies, plate size had no significant effect on the amount of food consumed by the participants."[18]

Michal Clements writing for Chicago Now described the movement as "equal parts calorie-consumption awareness, cost savings and fashion."[19]


  1. "Large Plate Mistake". 2006-07-25. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.05.003. Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Van Ittersum, Koert; Wansink, Brian. "Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion's Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior". Journal of Consumer Research. 39: 215–228. doi:10.1086/662615. JSTOR 10.1086/662615.
  3. 18/01/2012 13:00 GMT (2012-01-18). "Use Contrasting Colours And Smaller Plates To Lose Weight, Study Finds". Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  4. Wansink, Brian (2007). "Portion Size Me: Downsizing our consumption norms". Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 20 (10): 1–4.
  5. "Lose Weight With Smaller Plates: Science Weighs in on Dishsize and Calories". Breaking Muscle. Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  6. "Portion control may be all in the mind, studies suggest". CBS News. 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  7. Graff, Vincent (2015-02-05). "Desperate to lose weight? Just redesign your kitchen! | Daily Mail Online". London: Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  8. Wansink, Brian; Van Ittersum, Koert (2013). "Portion Size Me: Plate Size Can Decrease Serving Size, Intake, and Food Waste". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 19 (2): 320–332.
  9. "Change Plates to Lose Weight". Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  10. Buettner, Dan. "The Minnesota Miracle". AARP The Magazine
  11. Condrasky, Dr. Margaret D. (March 2011). "Small Plates for Healthy Appetites" (PDF). Culinary Nutrition News. American Culinary Federation. p. 2. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  12. Shafir, Eldar (2013). The Behavioural Foundations of Public Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Search this book on
  13. Pratt, Monica. "Turning Red Zones into Blue Zones: How GIS can help create healthy communities" (PDF).
  14. Buettner, Dan. "The Minnesota Miracle". AARP The Magazine.
  15. "Beating Your Mindless Eating Habits". doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.05.003. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  16. "Smaller plates do not always mean smaller portions, warns study". 2015-03-30. Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  17. Rochman, Bonnie (2013-04-08). "Smaller Dishes Could Cut Childhood Obesity |". Retrieved 2015-07-27.
  18. "Small Plate Movement". Penn State Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  19. Clements, Michal (November 5, 2014). "Mini Market Strategy: The Big Benefit of Small Plates". Chicago Now. Retrieved 18 July 2015.

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