The news from the U.S. that rates of childhood obesity is good news indeed. The French have been struggling with the beginning of their own epidemic although it's not nearly so bad. Only about one-third of the French are overweight compared with two-thirds of American adults.
There's a raging debate about the French paradox, that is how a nation devoted to butter, cheese, and foie gras can do so well in the weight department. Since this has gotten so much press elsewhere, I'll spare you the details. Personally, I've been struck by the incongruity between the heavy presence of fast food advertising and the required health messages. France was actually the first national government to require health messages for food advertising on TV and radio. Failure to comply can mean a fine of 1.5 percent of the firm's advertising budget. So that ad of a giant pizza oozing cheese, for example, includes a tag line at the bottom advising regular physical activity. Other messages advise eating at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day, avoiding snacking between meals, and trying not to eat too much salt, sugar, and fat.
Of course, as is the case for big institutions everywhere, consistency is difficult to achieve. With the rising cost of living and dwindling purchasing power, another agency is distributing a colorful little pamphlet on how to eat well without spending too much. Its advice is heavy on potatoes, pasta, crème fraîche, and cheese, mentioning fruits and vegetables only in passing. There's the French paradox in a nutshell.