Amid the barrage of anti-obesity campaigns and distressing statistics here in the United States, it’s hard not to be a little jealous of the French. After all, they are legendarily able to stay slim, despite the buttery temptations of French pastries. But it seems that now the French (like Greeks and Italians) are succumbing to the pitfalls of globalized eating habits.
NPR reports that “nearly 14 percent of the French adult population is now obese, compared with 8 percent just 10 years ago.” French doctors blame urbanization and immigration for the change, saying that young people are uninterested in learning how to cook, and that the rituals of mealtime are slowly becoming less important. Obesity is particularly bad in rural areas, where people drive more than in the cities, and among the poor. It sounds a little like the United States.
The secret to France’s health lies, according to most, in their love of fresh ingredients and ability to restrict portion size. ”The French know how to cook and prepare food,” Dr. Jean Marc Catheline told NPR. “French families have always known what’s good for them and what isn’t. We are also a country with strong rural traditions and great respect for food from the farm.”
Others point to American pop culture as a possible culprit. The French traditionally restrict their eating to mealtimes, but seeing characters constantly snacking on TV could change people’s relationships to food.
The French government is already alarmed by the climbing obesity statistics. In May, France’s Ministry of Higher Education and Research “announced a commitment of $185 million as part of its future investment scheme dedicated solely toward obesity-related research,” according to Nature Medicine.
Getting people to cook for themselves again could be the key. After all, as Catheline observes, “Knowing how to cook might not keep you from being overweight, but it will keep you from being obese.”
Photo from Francis Storr via flickr.
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