Today's International Herald Tribune has a story on the front page on the rising rate of obesity in France. It seems that although the French are still well behind the United Stages and the United Kingdom in obesity, their rate has been increasing by some five percent each year. According to the article, the increase can be put down to the changes in traditional habits cited in the best-selling advice book "French Women Don't Get Fat". Parents are less likely to return home for lunch with their children and frozen foods are becoming more popular as people have increasingly little time for traditional markets. In addition, snacking between meals is increasingly easy as vending machines appear in metros and work places.
I found this interesting as it coincides with my own observations over the last 12 years in Paris. When I arrived there were no vending machines in the metro stations; now you can find them on most platforms, selling soda pop and candy. (It used to frustrate me when I was pregnant that I could never find anything nutritious in those machines!)
As for the frozen food issue, I was amazed when I worked as an au pair for a family in the suburbs when I found that they relied on weekly deliveries from the frozen food store, Picard. This family had a full size freezer to accommodate all the frozen convenience food. The IHT article postulates that as the French are not accustomed to using highly caloric convenience foods it means that they find it more difficult than Americans or Brits to control the spiralling weight problem. This was certainly true for the family in question as both the mother and her three-year-old daughter were decidedly plump. This was some time ago, so they were a bit ahead of the curve. But if the trend continues those of us who are a little chubby may find it easier to buy oversize stylish clothes in France.
The article ends with a chilling observation from Michael Mullen, European product manaer for Weight Watchers, "The market in France is growing and we believe it has an excellent future." Corporate America - from fast food chains to WW - is finding a silver lining in this particular cloud, it seems!