A study published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs finds that many people would take smaller portions of side dishes at a fast-food Chinese restaurant if they were given that option when ordering.

The researchers conducted three experiments in the same North Carolina Chinese-food restaurant, taking steps to ensure customers didn’t know they were being observed. In the first experiment, customers were asked by restaurant staff whether they’d like a smaller serving of the starchy side dishes (such as rice) than usually came with the meal — one five-ounce scoop instead of two. In the second, they were offered a nominal 25-cent discount if they chose the smaller side dish. And in the third, researchers checked how much food was left on people’s plates to determine whether people who chose smaller side dishes consumed more calories worth of their main dish to compensate

They found that between 14 percent and 33 percent of customers accepted the offer of the smaller portion — regardless of whether they were offered a discount. And folks who accepted the smaller portions consumed an average of 200 fewer calories than those who stuck with the full-size meals.

The authors offer their findings as perhaps a different approach to getting people to eat less when they dine out, especially since, so far, posting calorie counts on menus and menu boards doesn’t seem to have altered people’s food choices.

I think it’s beautiful in its simplicity. If only the other two-thirds had chosen to downsize, too. Would you choose smaller portions if the restaurants you eat at offered them?

In other health news:

The FDA has issued a safety alert that use of common heartburn/acid reflux medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, has been associated with developing an intractable form of diarrhea caused by C. difficile bacteria. Those medications, known as proton-pump inhibitors, or PPIs, include such name brands as Prilosec, Nexium, Protonix and Prevacid.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that the amount of trans fatty acids in people’s blood — at least, the white people included in the sample — declined dramatically from 2000 to 2009. That may reflect changes in package labeling enacted by the FDA in 2003 that required manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats on packaged foods’ nutrition panels.