Demystifying Cup Sizes

sugar in soft drinksNutritionists, marketing experts and others who study sugary drink trends note cutting back
is not so easy. Pierre Chandon, who studies how people make consumption decisions and
how marketing can affect us without our even noticing it thinks that while consumers know
that the purpose of advertising is to get us to buy things, they have no idea that the size and
shape of a package can also influence us.

Using different cup sizes from a fast food restaurant, Chandon, who is a marketing professor
at Paris-based INSEAD, developed a soda quiz. The test is designed to point out that people
often purchase larger cup sizes thinking that they are getting more for their money, which
they are. But the real point is that the larger sizes are what’s making people fat. [The quiz
accompanied an article, “How Can a Big Gulp Look So Small?,” published in the June 24
issue of The New York Times.]

Chandon, who spent his summer as a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School, told
listeners on the H2O For Health radio show that understanding drink labels and calculating
serving size and calories is increasingly tricky because a single bottle of soda is typically
more than a single serving. As he likes to point out, Coca-Cola was only sold in 6.5 ounce
bottles when it was first launched. Today, some people regularly purchase 64-ounce sizes of
fountain drinks.

Prof. Chandon summed consumers’ struggle this way. “Imagine there is a river and the
banks of the river are slippery and so yes, it’s your personal choice to be careful and pay
attention and not fall into the water. At the same time, clearly, the industry is trying to
attract you to the river because that’s what they do.” In fact, the beverage industry argues
that people have the right to choose their beverage.
Prof. Chandon’s research attempts to find out how industry, the public health community
and government can find a way around indfustry selling more and more calories that lead to
higher obesity rate and health problems.

Meanwhile, a coalition of health and consumer advocates and city public health
departments have requested that U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin launch a study on
the health effects of soda and other sugary drinks. Health advocates say they want
government intervention to help people make better decisions and stem the costly obesity

While most people have healthy long-term goals, Prof. Chandon told listeners that, “In the
short-term, we all go for taste. That’s an immediate reward that we may regret later.” One
way around this, he believes, is to create marketing that focuses on simple solution:
satiation. That’s where water comes in.

Water delivers maximum hydration with zero calories and can sometimes keep people from
over-eating or consuming a less healthy beverage

About Me

Jonathan Hall is a drinking water advocate. He blogs at and has worked as an independent strategy and social media content consultant.