Infographic Of The Day: The Growth In Fast Food Portion Sizes

This chart from the Center For Disease Control charts who different fast food offerings today are than they were in the days of drive-ins and local burger joints:


H/T Brian Fung

Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John Burgess says:

    The point is made, but a bit dishonestly. It compares the size of the only offerings of the 1950s with the optional large (or even bigger) offerings available today. Order the standard size (aka small) from McDonalds and you might not even get the 1950’s size.

    2012 stats:

    Hamburger = 108g = 3.8 Oz
    Small Fries = 35g = 1.23 Oz
    Small Drink = 12 Oz

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    I just stopped eating fast food*. So my portion size is near 0.

    *except for the occasional subway/jimmy johns/fast deli situation.

  3. @John Burgess:

    A fair point, but one wonders how many people make the choice of, say, small size choices you list instead of a Big Mac? (And yes, I know, that it’s ultimately a matter of individual choice, I’m not blaming the restaurants for supplying products that people want)

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I haven’t eaten “fast food” in years and I really don’t miss it (Heck, I make a better burger myself anyway) but I don’t really consider Subway or similar places in the same category as Mickey D’s and the like.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The portion size is actually irrelevant. The question is what is the size of the median vend? Restaurants serve larger portion sizes because they convince people that they’re getting good value for what is otherwise mediocre (or worse) food.

    Fast food restaurants like McDonalds introduced and marketed larger sized portions and/or menu items as a way of increasing the margins realized from the typical vend. Compare the relative labor costs, burden costs, food cost, and relative prices. They make more by selling 1,000 Big Macs a day than they do 2,000 single cheeseburgers.

    There’s a place for fast food. I don’t think it should be despised. However, I think it’s sad that a couple of generations have grown up without knowing what a good burger tastes like. And, obviously, not good for our national health that so many people equate food with what’s served at a fast food restaurant.

  5. I ordered a “large” ice cream at Sonic the other day and it was 32oz! (what used to be a large, if not super-sized soda).

  6. I meant to tune back into Morning Joe this week. The day I was watching, Joe (normally the guy who loves to rant against the nanny state on food) named obesity as the number one government costs problem (as it impacts Medicare, employment, etc.)

    So, which is it? Is it “Individual choice” and therefore a non-problem, a justified outcome in “pursuit of happiness”, or is the problem real?

    If the problem is real, one cannot rationally reject response.

  7. John Burgess says:

    I guess I may be an outlier, but I order the standard cheeseburger and small fries when I go to Mickey D’s. If I’m hungry, I might order two. I’d rather put my big calorie efforts into, say, a 2-lb lobster or a half-dozen steamed crabs. With those, who needs side orders of anything?

  8. It just registered that while I was up in Calabasas, Malibu, and Zuma yesterday, I didn’t see a fat person … not sure if that drives the weight and lifestyle argument, or the weight and class argument. There are no doubt fewer McD’s up there, and more personal trainers.

  9. BTW,

    Scientists start explaining Fat Bastard’s vicious cycle

    That’s another one where a reputable outlet uses bad language in the title. Let’s see if it makes it past the filter …

  10. WR says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Ah, Jimmy John’s. The best part of the summer I spent teaching in Missouri. I wish we had them in California…

  11. Franklin says:

    @WR: I used to sort of like Jimmy John’s, although I dislike their bread. But the idiots would get my order wrong exactly 18% of the time (this was measured over many visits, it’s quite accurate and statistically significant), and after a couple salmonella outbreaks from the sprouts (which were the best part of JJ sandwiches), I simply stopped going.

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    The inflation of soda size is the result of sugar being replaced with high fructose corn syrup. When sodas were made with refined sugar no one could drink a 42 oz. drink – the glucose in the sugar makes you feel full. Fructose does not make you feel full.

  13. mantis says:

    If you like your life and your health, you shouldn’t eat that crap. It may be fast food, but it’s slow poison.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t think you guys are seeing the opportunities, here. Look at the art of the family beneath the graph. It’s clear to me that if we just keep increasing the size of our burgers we can grow to become giants and crush all other people beneath our mighty feet. A nation of giants! It’s within our grasp.

  15. I’m actually boycotting McDonald’s until they bring back my precious super-sized French Fries!

  16. @michael reynolds:

    I was watching that “stats” show, with the two brothers, link, and I was surprised to know that we are down to 10th tallest nation in the world.

    That’s sad. Amazing that the Danes (my people) are now #2. All my relatives are short … but I guess I’m thinking of a pre-WWII cohort.

  17. Ah, that full episode is currently on-line. All about food and size.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    I knew there was something wrong with MickeyD’s when my dog refused to eat Chicken McNuggets. And this is a dog that would inhale Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwiches and Wendy’s Hamburgers.

    I do admit I like Popeye’s Fried Chicken every now and then. And Arby’s Curly Fries.

  19. Racehorse says:

    It is not necessarily the portions. When MacDonalds first came around, I would get two hamburgers, two ff, drink or shake. But I only ate there about once a month. For some people today, it is 3-5 times a week: breakfast (they did not have breakfast long ago), lunch (McDs around here is packed at lunch), and evening. Sometimes people go in just for a snack of ice cream and fries. It is the regularity of it that has really increased. Of course, it is not just McD. Lets not pick just on them. We choose what and where to eat. No one, no amount of advertising makes me go in any restaurant.