Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight

The reputation that the French have slim waistlines appears overblown with new figures revealing that around half of adults in the country are overweight, and one in six registering as obese.

Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
A model at the Pulp Fiction fashion show in Paris that represents society's diverse spectrum . Photo: AFP
The French, if the reputation is to be believed, manage to keep perfect waistlines all their lives.
But new figures suggest the longstanding reputation, that has been the subject of books like Why French Women don't Get Fat, is more myth than reality (or perhaps just based on a wealthy Paris elite).
The figures released on Tuesday reveal that over the age of 30, some 56.8 percent of French men are overweight or obese and 40.9 percent of French women of the same age also tip the scales as obese or overweight. 
This comes from a study carried out by French researchers at the journal Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire (BEH).
Researchers weighed 30,000 French people for the study, finding that 15.8 percent of the men classified as obese compared to 15.6 percent of women. 
“This excess weight is a public health problem,” researcher Sébastien Czernichow told Le Figaro newspaper.
He noted, however, that while being overweight had links to diabetes and cardiovascular risks, having a high Body Mass Index didn't necessarily come with such health risks. 
With hearty national dishes like fondue, tartiflette, andouillette, plus all the croissants and pain au chocolats, not to mention the macarons and the cheese, the French could be forgiven for bursting out of their trouser buttons.
The great Gallic grub that's surprisingly healthy
Indeed, some people who register as obese according to the scale, which is a ratio of weight and height, were found to be “metabolically healthy”.
Researchers said they didn't have comparable data to determine whether obesity was becoming worse in France, but said they “feel the situation has improved a little”. 
Age is one of the biggest risk factors with obesity, the study noted, with the proportion of obesity of people at the age of 30 around half that of those at the age of 60.
The study also noted that people with higher incomes were more likely to be in better shape. In fact, one in four of those earning a salary of under €1,000 a month were obese, compared to just one in ten of those earning over €4,200. 
The statistics come after study published last week by Eurostat that found France to be slightly better than the EU average when it came to obesity, with 15.3 percent of French adults obese compared to 15.9 percent across the union. 
The obesity rate in Britain was 20.1 percent, one of the highest in Europe along with Hungary, Latvia and Malta (26 percent).
The Eurostat figures showed that 15.3 percent of French men over the age of 18 were obese, a figure that was exactly the same for women of the same age. 
The EU average for obesity was at 16.1 percent of the adult population for men and 15.7 percent for women, both higher than in France. 
People with a BMI (body mass index) of 25 and higher are classified as overweight, while those with a BMI over 30 are obese. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?