Not even France, the world-renowned center of culture, style, elegance and fashion, has been spared from the global scourge of obesity.
The number of obese Frenchmen and women has doubled in only the past fifteen years to 7 million, according to a study by Obepi-Roche, the pharmacist group.
On the whole, 15 percent of the French population is now obese, and almost one-third (32.3 percent) is overweight.
The weight gains were particularly pronounced among young adults – among French people between the ages of 18 and 24, the obesity rate jumped by 35 percent in only the past three years.
The survey attributed the sudden spike in Gauls with girth to the same phenomena afflicting the United Kingdom and United States, namely an increased dependence on fast food and high-calorie sodas, excessive TV watching and an inordinate time spent in front of a computer screen.
In addition, the classic French tradition of a family eating a meal together at the dining room is vanishing. Indeed, French youth are increasingly likely to eat while gazing at televisions and PCs, while snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day.
"We are going to work with [food manufacturers] on [ways] to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat," said Guillaume Garot, the country’s food minister.
"It's not easy to understand what's in food products with labels full of signs and formulas that are barely comprehensible. These days you virtually need a degree in chemistry to understand the nutritional information on food labels. We need a simpler system that simply says in three colors if a food will make you fat, if it’s neutral or if it’s healthy. This is a health problem that affects the whole of our society and the government will tackle it as a matter of priority.”
Also, paralleling trends seen in other advanced nations, it is the poor who are gaining the most weight. The study indicated that low-income Frenchmen in the northern Pas de Calais and in parts of eastern France exhibit far higher rates of obesity than the well-heeled residents of Paris, Brittany and the French Riviera.
However, France is not among the fattest people in Europe. According to Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union, as of November 2011, the highest rates of obesity among women were recorded in the UK (23.9 percent), Malta (21.1 percent) and Latvia (20.9 percent). Among men, the highest incidences of obesity were found in Malta (24.7 percent), UK (22.1 percent) and Hungary (21.4 percent).
At that time France reported relatively modest rates of obesity – 12.7 percent for women, 11.7 percent for men.