France leans on advertisers to keep kids slim

13th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, October 13 (AFP) - With a new report showing that obesity levels among children have doubled in five years, the French government has announced plans to punish companies that fail to carry health advisories on advertisements for many food and drink products.

PARIS, October 13 (AFP) - With a new report showing that obesity levels among children have doubled in five years, the French government has announced plans to punish companies that fail to carry health advisories on advertisements for many food and drink products.

As part of a social security law approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, manufacturers will from next year be made to pay a 1.5 percent tax on their media budgets unless they include wording agreed by the health ministry in a prominent position on all printed and broadcast publicity.

The list of foodstuffs affected by the law has yet to be finalised, but it will certainly include all goods with high fat or sugar content. Industry insiders fear it could extend to any pre-packaged product, and they have expressed mounting concern about the damage to their competitiveness.

"One of the immediate consequences of this text will be a new and significant increase in the financial burden that our sector has to bear," warned Jean-Réné Buisson, president of the National Association of Food Industries.

Following a recent ban on vending-machines selling sweets and fizzy drinks in schools, the new measure reflects growing public awareness in France of the threat of obesity -- particularly among children and the poor.

According to a parliamentary report released this week, the proportion of adults that are obese has gone up from eight to 11 percent in five years. In the under-15 age bracket, the figure doubled from two to four percent in the same period.

The study -- conducted by the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM)-- found that the risk of obesity is concentrated among the socially and economically disadvantaged, with graduates three times less likely to be obese than those who leave school early.

Only seven percent of children of executives are overweight, compared to 25 percent of children of the unemployed, the report found.

Obesity is clinically defined in terms of a ratio between height and body weight. With a Body Mass Index of 25 to 30, a person is described as overweight. Above 30, he or she is obese.

Most developed countries have experienced similar increases in obesity, and the report found that France's figures are slightly lower than in Britain and Australia. Obesity levels among French children are now about the same level as in the United States 20 years ago, it found.

As elsewhere, lifestyle changes are blamed for the increase in French obesity -- which flies in the face of received wisdom about the so-called "French paradox".

Recent books with titles such as "French women don't get fat" and "Chic and Slim" have argued that the French have found the secret for healthy eating -- but according to the INSERM report French women are only slightly less likely to be overweight than their equivalents elsewhere in Europe.

The Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Health Policy (OPEPS), which commissioned the study, made several recommendations to combat the scourge, which it is feared could vastly inflate the country's medical expenditure in decades to come.

These include investment in sporting facilities and cycle tracks, and -- more controversially -- state subsidies on fruit and vegetables.

Noting that the cost of fatty foods in France has fallen by a half in 50 years while vegetables have gone up by a third, the deputies said that the country's richest 25 percent now consume three times more fruit and vegetables than the poorest.

"Fruit and vegetables must be accessible to all, including the most disadvantaged housholds, thanks to subsidies that allow us to bring down the prices," the OPEPS concluded.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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