[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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