Your Health

'Last Supper' Gets Supersized With Time

Let's pretend Jesus were alive today. Would he have to watch his weight? If art imitates life, yes. Analysis of 52 notable versions of The Last Supper painted over the last 1,000 years shows that problems with ballooning portions began way before McDonald's.

According to a study published in this week's International Journal of Obesity, Last Supper entree sizes grew by 69 percent over the past millennium. Average bread-size grew too — by about 23 percent.

Check it out for yourself:

[Slideshow: How Big Were The Portions At History's Most Famous Meal?]

This slideshow requires version 9 or higher of the Adobe Flash Player. Get the latest Flash Player.

How Big Were The Portions At History's Most Famous Meal?

The findings suggest that bigger portion sizes and bigger plates have been developing gradually, said Brian Wansink, co-author of the study and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

"In the Gospels themselves when they describe this meal, they only describe bread and wine as being present," Craig Wansink, co-author, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College — and yes, brother of Brian — told Shots. So, it was up to the individual artists to decide what else might have been served, and sizes.

The paintings were analyzed with a computer program that scanned the depicted food items and calculated their dimensions. To account for varying sizes of the paintings and their foods , the size of bread loaves and main dishes was indexed based on the average head size of the people around the table — or what the researchers call the "Bread-to-Head" ratio (and, of course, the "Main-Dish-by-head" ratio, too).

"The last thousand years have witnessed dramatic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food," said Brian Wansink, "We think that as art imitates life, these changes have been reflected in paintings of history's most famous dinner."



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.