Is Jesus Making You Overeat?

i-2313162a618d2ca17516951f6cc8767b-Last supper.jpg

Well, in fairness, Jesus' twelve Apostles should also share in the blame.

An incredibly quirky and yet fascinating study was just published in the International Journal of Obesity which investigated the size of the food and plates that have been depicted in paintings of Jesus' Last Supper over the last 1000 years.

The trend of gradually increasing portion sizes is well documented; just go to your local McDonalds and order a large drink and fries and drive yourself directly to the nearby hospital for a bypass.

Thus, Wansink & Wansink (maybe a married couple) decided to directly compare the portion sizes in various historical renderings of what is considered to be the most famous meal ever.

I always love when quirky studies try to make their methods some uber-scientific, as in this case:

"...52 of the best known depictions of the Last Supper over the last millennium (1000-2000 AD/CE) were analyzed for content and coded to determine changes over time. The sizes of the loaves of bread, main dishes and plates were assessed. To account for the varying dimensions of the paintings, the average sizes of these items were indexed based on the average size of the heads depicted in the paintings. This was aided by the use of a CAD-CAM program that allowed the items to be scanned, rotated and calculated, regardless of their original orientation in the painting. An index of 2.0 for the bread would indicate that the average width of the bread was twice the width of the average disciple's head."

And what did the authors discover?

As you'd expect, over the past 1000 years, Jesus and his apostles have progressively grown bigger appetites.


"From its depiction circa 1000 AD/CE to the present, the ratio of this main course entree has generally increased by 69.2%. Similarly, the ratio of the size of bread has increased by 23.1% and that of the size of plate by 65.6%."

So there you have it, if you have a more recent rendering of The Last Supper hanging in your dining room, the depictions of plentiful food had by Jesus and his friends, may just push you to eat that second helping of dry bread and fish.

Just remember- "What would Jesus do?"

Have a great weekend,


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Wansink, B., & Wansink, C. (2010). The largest Last Supper: depictions of food portions and plate size increased over the millennium International Journal of Obesity DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2010.37

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How do we know that they just didn't start painting wee tiny heads?

And here I thought it was all those crackers that PZ goes on about that was doing it.

Fun post! Although the tiny head theory is possible (and hilarious) 69% increase in food portions is astonishing and even a little more than I would have thought.

Not to mention the fact that bread (a processed food made from refined ingredients) was a large part of their diet.

I guess diet tip #1 is: decrease your portion sizes!


@ ENT-TT Great point regarding tiny head issue! I also wonder how they dealt with halos, if present, in the paintings. I remember my grandparents had a Last Supper painting in their home, and Jesus had a fairly large halo around his head. Their methods section did not discuss this - if only I was peer-reviewer on this paper!

I suspect the reformation is to blame.

For Catholics, the Last supper is about the Eucharist, so only a small amount of bread and wine is needed.

For protestants and agnostics, it's about the sadness of a last meal with relatives, so a meal would be shown.

but the real puzzle is why a peer reviewed journal would print such nonsense. the "obesity" epidemic is twenty years old...

The purpose of the Last Supper is what?Is this supper or something else? Are we sure Da Vinci was sure of the things that were ate and their size? Or it just looked so natural that we still dont feel it was a painting.

Nice post Peter

I don't think Wansink and Wansink are married as they are in America and you guys hate gay marriage. Plus they're brothers. One is a obesity researcher and the other is a religious scholar, I believe.

tioedong- First go read the paper. Second the point is that one of the alleged drivers of the obesity epidemic may be much older than the 20-year timeframe you seem to think is long term.

By antipodean (not verified) on 06 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think it is hilarious that you are making fun of their quantification procedure. And if they didn't have one you would make fun of them for not being scientific at all. If they reported their methods in a narrative form it wouldn't be sciency enough, and if they reported them, as they did, in conventional journal paper methodese, it's oh-so-funny that they are trying to sound uber-scientific. I like your blog, but the shit you dudes do would have been considered "quirky" or even "women's work" not so long ago. (Anything nutrition related? That's for women!) One gets tired of the policing of science boundaries sometimes - which sometimes seem to be done most vigorously by those in fields that are furthest from the center of old school, basic core science fields.

I don't necessarily buy the idea that these paintings caused overeating. It's far more likely our cultural attitude towards food changing over time led to the increased size of painted food, although perhaps art in general was part of what changed our cultural attitudes.

And I agree with Zuska to a fair extent-- I was pretty confused as to why you were making fun of their attempt to make things sciency-- was the goal to undermine it? Probably not, I just found it confusing... and I can't lie here, I also laughed at the quirkiness of the research.

:P This just sounds perfect for the Rapture to happen on May 21st. But if Jesus makes me overeat, can;'t he help me stop and work out a bit to lose that flab, and start eating again. Can't he? am I asking for too much love here?! :-(