'Crazy' Ways the French Are Fighting Their Fat Problem

coissantsWhat they say is true -- obesity is contagious, and the French are catching it in growing numbers! In just a few years the obesity rate in France has climbed up to 14 percent. Of course, they're still far behind the Americans, 25-30 percent of whom are obese depending on the state (le sigh). Still, the food-obsessed French are concerned enough about the rise in obesity that they've made fighting it a priority.

The French national obesity plan involves airing television spots encouraging people to move around more and eat better balanced meals. Hmm. Sound familiar? But the French also have a few other crafty weapons that might make them a little more effective at tackling the whole overeating thing than we here in the United States have been so far. 


The French anti-obesity program has taken what some might consider some anti-business steps to combat obesity:

1. They got rid of vending machines that sell snacks and soda in schools in 2005.

2. They banned "misleading" TV food ads

3. They tax food companies who do not promote healthy eating. 

4. They've gotten commercials to actively discourage snacking between meals and eating processed food.

Bonus: The French have long had subsidized daycare centers that cook well-balanced, from-scratch meals and teach children proper table manners.

So ... how is that working out for them? Actually, childhood obesity rates have started to level off. And some communities have seen a decrease.

Meanwhile, here's how the same ideas would go over in America:

1. Banning vending machines in schools: This is slowly happening here, too, but always with a big fight and usually some sad compromise as the end result, like vending machines selling "less-bad" snacks that are still high in sugar and chemicals.

2. Banning "misleading" food commercials: Hah! Here, the junk food industry blocks every attempt to limit their advertising. You can't outright lie, but misleading is still legal.

3. Tax penalties: Here? You must be joking. 

4. Discouraging snacking and processed food through TV spots: So not happening in the U.S. American television is too dependent on junk food commercials, and you know that plenty of companies would threaten to pull their ads if the other, healthier ones became the norm.

Bonus: Americans are not about to subsidize daycare on a large scale, let alone spend money on from-scratch cooking and hoity-toity table manners. Let them eat pizza! At 3 in the afternoon. In front of the Xbox.

Two things pop out at me. The first is that the French don't seem to be worried about appearing "anti-business" or taking on big corporations if it means improving the health of their people. The second is that there is room in their minds for the possibility that government can actually help sometimes.

I think in the U.S., we've gotten to the point where we think the government can't do anything right, so we might as well throw out the baby with the bathwater. And we worship personal freedom so fervently that anything that restricts either corporations or your God-given right to commit suicide by burger is treated as a Communist conspiracy. So now, instead of a strong government, we have strong corporations that outsource jobs and keep us fat and diabetic with their junk food. So cheers, America! Enjoy those freedom fries.

Do you think France's tactics to fight obesity would work in the U.S.?


Image via Kanko*/Flickr

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