December 23, 1993|By ANN EGERTON

We howl about the cost of health care but get fatter every year, and not by chance.

At the risk of sounding like an old crone, I remember the days when a soft drink was six fluid ounces in a green-tinted glass bottle.

Now the smallest bottles, other than the quaint, retro eight-ounce glass ones that recently have returned to the shelves in a spirit of nostalgia, hold 16 ounces, while the cans hold 12.

Pepsi Cola began the escalation of portions in 1942 when it offered, in addition to the standard six ounces, 12 ounces for a nickel.

Remember the jingle, ''Pepsi Cola hits the spot, 12 full ounces, that's a lot''? My family, always a little dumb about money, stuck with Coke.

Today, the smallest soft drink that convenience stores, fast food restaurants and movie theaters serve is 12 ounces. If that isn't enough, you can get 20 ounces or even 32, which is called Big Gulp at one store. If your bladder can take it, the Double Gulp, a tidal wave of 64 ounces, is offered there.

Some movie theaters offer the (large) 46-ounce soft drink and the (large) 130-ounce popcorn for the same price as the medium-size servings of each.

Candy bars, especially in movie theaters, also have swollen in size. You no longer get just an ounce or so of sweets, but a meal of sugar -- up to six ounces -- while you watch the show.

Containers of popcorn have graduated from the dainty one-ounce box all the way to the gluttonous 130-ounce, butter-saturated helping in a tub.

A man working concessions at a movie theater once explained to me that the size increases are due to public demand. Of course, we pay accordingly.

And so it goes. I ordered the pork at an upscale restaurant recently and was brought nine slabs of meat, a platter fit for a lumberjack.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that fast food restaurants are reducing their efforts at lean cuisine and featuring bigger helpings of richer food, such as Mega Macs, deep-fried, batter-dipped chicken strips and 10-by-30-inch rectangular pizzas. That's what people want.

Of course, we're growing right along with our appetites. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 25 percent of American males and 27 percent of American females ages 20 to 74 were overweight by public health standards between 1976 and 1980. By 1990, the numbers had swollen to 31 percent and 35 percent respectively.

It is rude and unkind, even cruel to call a person fat, and this is undeniably a delicate issue. But when about one-third of the adult population is overweight and growing, it becomes a national health issue that must be discussed.

Ann Egerton is a Baltimore writer.

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