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The French Approach to Nutrition

By Emily Roberts

The United States is able to utilize government assistance to support various programs to help improve the nutritional status of our nation. There is a safety net of several programs to improve public health via nutrition. Prolonged consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle including obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes are being seen in other countries as well. As I am currently residing in the south of France for seven months to teach English, I have the opportunity to discover how another country is tackling the public health problems associated with nutrition.

Chronic Diseases in France

Worldwide we are seeing an increase rate of health disparities. Cardiovascular disease, obesity and type II diabetes are three main common ailments and are often preventable. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide (1). Now in the 21st century over 30% of the world’s population suffers from heart disease. Interestingly enough in France, heart disease mortality isn’t as high as other 1st world countries (2). Despite a diet rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, the incidence of heart disease remains low (3). While heart disease may not been the main concern, circulatory disease remains an issue, being the second leading cause of death in 2012 after cancer (2). In 2014 25.7% of the French adult population was obese (4). Comparing this to the United States at 35% they aren’t too far behind (5). Type II diabetes is drawing attention as well as a health issue. In 2009 7.0%- 7.5% of the French population had type II diabetes in comparison to about 10.41% of the United States Population (6,7). France is addressing currently addressing these problems and taking on tactics similar to the United States by promoting preventative methods.

Le Programme National Nutrition SantÉ (PNNS)

Manger Bouger translates to Eat and Move. It is supported by Programme National Nutrition SantÉ (PNNS) meaning a national nutrition and health program (8). PNNS began in 2001 with the objective to improve public health and reduce the incidence of chronic diseases by improving nutritional practices. The goals of PNNS assess different social, cultural, cognitive and economic disparities when trying to improve the nutritional status and the level of physical activity of France. Under the umbrella of PNNS there are a few specific programs. In 2010, the French government has implemented un plan obÉsitÉ (PO) (an obesity plan) and also un programme national pour l’alimentation (PNA) (a national food program).

Manger Bouger

Similar to the US’s ChooseMyPlate, the Manger Bouger site offers a plethora of helpful nutritional information to the public (9,10). It stresses to regularly eat a diet mixed in fruits, vegetables, grains and fish; limit salts, sugars and fats and to participate in regular physical activity (10). It explains to the public how these healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk for many chronic ailments. The site also briefly mentions to read nutrition facts labels, but there is little assistance on how to understand this information. Furthermore, the format for Nutrition Facts in France is very different and hard to interpret given the main point that there are often no serving size portions and only 100g portion sizes. While, there is no software on the site similar to SuperTracker or any type of diet assessment tool, there is La Fabrique à Menus, which helps to plan out a daily menu of various healthy dishes. Manger Bouger also includes a blog titled “Le Mag” which includes tips on how to enjoy the many rich flavors of France or eating on a budget, while still eating healthy.

My experience

Living in France, I have witnessed how important cuisine is to the French population. A prime example is how each region has traditional dishes tied closely to their culture. In Nice a popular dish is socca, a chickpea pancake, and in SÈte you cannot walk a block without finding tielle, a savory fish tart. Manger Bouger embraces this by providing general nutritional practices like consuming smaller portions, while keeping the tradition of French cuisine alive. Manger Bouger only offers specific meal advice for lunch and dinner (11). This is most likely because a typical French breakfast or petit dÉjeuner is only a slice of bread or a croissant and a coffee. Snacking in France is also less common. While in America five small meals a day can be seen as a healthy eating habit, this would not be ideal for the French as they value their meal time as a time to relax and experience their food. Unfortunately, the French do not seem to draw much attention to the specific nutritional content of their food. Consequently the general public does not seem as well educated on their daily caloric intake and the nutritional makeup. This could be due to the fact that they seem to focus more on reducing portion sizes and over eating rather than changing the composition of their diet.

1.http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/

2.http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Causes_of_death_%E2%80%94_standardised_death_rate,_2012_%28per_100_000_inhabitants%29_YB15.png

3.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1768013/

4.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fr.html

5.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html

6.http://www.changingdiabetesbarometer.com/diabetes-data/countries/France/fact-sheet.aspx

7.http://www.changingdiabetesbarometer.com/diabetes-data/countries/usa.aspx

8.http://www.mangerbouger.fr/pnns/le-pnns-c-est-quoi.html

9.http://www.choosemyplate.gov/about

10.http://www.mangerbouger.fr

11.http://www.mangerbouger.fr/bien-manger/la-fabrique-a-menus.html#menu

12.http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Causes_of_death_statistics#Further_Eurostat_information

13.http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/185215/Leading-causes-of-death-in-Europe-Fact-Sheet.pdf