France's New Battle of the Bulge

Our image of France rarely includes obesity. We hardly imagine that, year by year, France has grown fatter—and has responded accordingly, GlobalPost reports. In 2009, 14.5 percent of French adults were obese; in 1997, only 8.5 percent qualified. Each year brings an average of 250,000 more French people who are considered obese. One nutritionist said France's obesity epidemic is about 20 years behind that of the United States.

In response, the French government has implemented several changes, including a new school initiative entitled "Morning Classes, Afternoon Sports," set to take place in various schools this fall. The results seem promising:

The country's early adoption of a proactive approach is credited with some successes. Since 2001, Basdevant said, France has had an established National Health and Nutrition Program, a Ministry of Health initiative that has included obesity prevention.

In 2004, when health officials found that the percentage of overweight young people had climbed to 17 percent in 20 years, the government responded by removing all soda and snack machines from the 20 percent of middle schools and 50 percent of high schools that carried them.

The national health program is credited with stabilizing weight gain and obesity in children, improving the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by adults and helping to reduce the population's salt intake, according to a national health survey conducted in 2006 and presented in 2007 by the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance, a public institution that reports to the Ministry of Health.

There are plans to go further. Following the presidential panel's report issued in December, Sarkozy announced in a letter addressed to Basdevant in June that he was setting aside 140 million euros to implement a national obesity plan over the next three years.

Read the full story at GlobalPost.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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