CHICAGO – It appears US consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of managing the portion size of the foods they eat, said The NPD Group, a leading market research company.

NPD compiled a list of 30 healthy eating and lifestyle dimensions to determine which ones consumers of different generations associate with healthy eating for a recent study entitled Healthy Eating Strategies by Generation. Of the 30 attributes, eating smaller portions ranked eleventh in importance among adult consumers across generations as a healthy eating characteristic.

Adults ranked the top-five characteristics of healthy eating and healthy lifestyles consistently: exercise regularly, eat well-balanced meals, eat all things in moderation, limit/avoid foods with saturated fat or cholesterol or trans fats and drink at least eight glasses of water per day.

Consuming smaller portions ended up seventh in importance amongst Generation X consumers, ages 35 to 45, as a healthy eating characteristic, which is the highest rank for the behavior among all generational groups. For Gen Y, ages 21 to 34, eating smaller portions ranked in the eighth position, and for younger boomers, ages 46-54, it ranked in the twelfth position as a healthy eating characteristic.

Older age groups – older boomers, silent generation and G.I. generation, ages 55 and older, with lesser appetites overall, had the lowest overall ranks for eating smaller portions. More women, especially overweight and obese women, tend to place a higher importance on eating smaller portions than do men.

Forty-three percent of the more than 5,000 adults surveyed indicated they ate smaller portions always or most of the time in the past year, according to the NPD food and beverage market research study. Fifty-seven percent of adult consumers aspire to eat smaller portions in the coming year, suggesting that this healthy eating strategy will become more important in the future.

Smaller portions and portion control are also important to consumers who want to eat more healthfully when they eat at restaurants and other foodservice outlets. Portion control and smaller portions rank third in importance for consumers looking for healthier option at restaurants, according to a recent NPD foodservice market research study entitled How Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Dine Out. Fast-food consumers rank smaller portions and portion control second.

“Based on the interest in smaller portions among the younger age groups and the size of these age groups, portion control is an area of opportunity for food manufacturers,” said Dori Hickey, director, product management at NPD and author of the study. “As they move through their life, these generations may continue the healthy eating behaviors they adopted in their younger years, making portion-control a long-term opportunity.”