[Paleopsych] Economist: Obesity in France: Gross national product

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Obesity in France: Gross national product

    Dec 20th 2005 | PARIS

    Contrary to popular myth, French people do get fat

    AS THE French sit down to their traditional Christmas eve feast of
    foie gras, oysters and dinde farcie aux marrons, they can do so with a
    clear conscience. For, as everybody knows, the famously svelte French
    somehow manage to combine gluttony with gastronomy--and still stay
    slim. Or do they?

    In fact, the rate of obesity in France has started to swell, rising
    from 8% of the adult population in 1997 to 11% by 2003. Over 40% of
    the French are now considered overweight. According to a recent Senate
    report, France has the same share of fat people today as America did
    in 1991--and an upward trend to match. And these numbers may
    understate the problem. The 2005 OECD health study says that obesity
    rates in Britain, at 23%, and America, at 31%, are higher. But it
    points out that the French figures, unlike British and American ones,
    are based on polls asking people if they are fat. Unsurprisingly,
    denial intrudes; self-reporting produces underestimates.

    Either way, France's politicians have started to notice. In October, a
    parliamentary report called for a public-health campaign. And a law
    has been passed to impose a 1.5% tax on the advertising budgets of
    food companies if they do not encourage healthy eating.

    What has happened to the French waistline? The short answer is that
    France has latched on to the fast-food culture. France is one of the
    biggest and most profitable European markets for McDonald's. Now KFC
    fast-food joints are spreading across the country. Frozen pizzas and
    fizzy drinks are also nibbling away at the traditional family meal,
    particularly in poorer households.

    There may be something else going on. Mireille Guiliano, a Frenchwoman
    based in America, caused a stir there with a book entitled "French
    Women Don't Get Fat". But in France, her fellow-citizens seem not only
    to be doing just that--but to have few hang-ups about it. Last
    weekend, 11.4m viewers watched Magalie, a singer with a voice as big
    as her build, being voted the winner of this year's Star Academy
    television talent show. Her voluptuous curves were all over the papers
    the next day. "It's the first time that a plump girl has won Star Ac,"
    she told Le Parisien, a newspaper. "It's proof that, in order to
    succeed, physique no longer counts."

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