French Fat

Don’t you just love governments that regulate your excesses? Greg Critser does. The author of Fat Land has published a column in The New York Times praising the French government for its anti-obesity policies. “Simply put,” writes Critser, “the state regulates the excesses of modern life. You will not find Coca-Cola in a French middle school.” No wonder the French are such a jolly bunch.

Here’s Critser on the diet advice of France’s Dr. Spock, Augusta Moll-Weiss:

Portions should be moderate; seconds were out of the question. All meals should be supervised by adults. Snacking was forbidden. The child’s preferences were unimportant, she said. “The essential thing is that the quality and the quantity of the diet correspond to the exertion of the young human being,” she insisted. Virtually every young French child was raised based on her advice.

And here we thought the French enjoyed — indeed luxuriated over — their food. It turns out that children can’t have seconds in a culture centered around ten-course meals. Despite France’s strict regulation of children’s diets, Critser acknowledges that obesity is a growing problem in France — largely because “fast food and convenience-food consumption are up.”

Dr. Roger Bate, who founded the Environment Unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1993 and co-founded the European Science and Environment Forum in 1994, isn’t so sure that obesity in Europe can be attributed to fast food. His research indicates that the number of McDonald’s restaurants in any given area has nothing to do with the prevalence of obesity. Dr. Bates writes:

McDonald’s restaurant penetration into European countries shows a negative correlation with IOTF obesity data. In other words, the more McDonald’s restaurants per 10,000 people, the fewer people are overweight … fast food has little to do with overall obesity rates. If fast food were the main cause of weight gain, we would expect to see the UK and France, with high fast food penetration, being the most obese. Yet it is Greece that has the most obese population, with over 70 percent of adults clinically overweight, while the country has few McDonald’s restaurants.

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