American Society For Nutrition

Why Parisians don’t get fat

Why Parisians don’t get fat

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 11/06/2009 at 01:46:12 PM by Student Blogger
By: Rachel K.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting France for two research conferences, and was able to spend a few days visiting Paris (note to prospective graduate students: traveling is one of the great perks of research!).  What struck me the most were the number of THIN Parisians walking around the city!  It was extremely rare for me to see someone who was overweight (most often a tourist).  Granted, this was a very unscientific experiment, and my French friends tell me that approximately 30% of the population is overweight and 10% obese.  However, this leaves 60% of the population at a normal weight.  How do they do it?

French native Mireille Guiliano details her own story in the 2004 book, “French Women Don't Get Fat,” which I have not had the opportunity to read.  However, here are some of my observations as an American.   

1. Food is expensive.  Very expensive.  When a normal size (i.e. small) espresso is $3.45, and the cappuccino is $5.75, you think twice about whether you really need coffee with milk. 

2. Cars are expensive.  Like most big cities, the cost to own, operate, and most importantly park a car is quite high.  However, the alternative public transportation options are so appealing and cheap that many people don't own a car.

3. Access to great public transportation.  Paris has a great metro system which covers the city like a spider web.  Trains running every 2-5 min. during the day, and you are never more than 10 min. walk from a metro station.  Recently, Paris also started a bike rental system.  Bike racks are located through-out the city stocked with city owned bikes.  You can rent a bike from any rack and drop it off at any other rack throughout the city.  Bike lanes are abundant too.

4. You have to carry groceries home.  When you have to walk 15min. to carry your groceries home from the supermarket, then carry them up five flights of stairs to your apartment, you tend to buy only what you need.

5. 35 hour work week.  While there are many criticisms about the 35-hour work week, one of the perks is the time to prepare meals at home and enjoy slow cooked meals out.  

6. Food taste and quality valued over convenience and price.  In America, we tend to put a premium on food convenience with our hectic schedules.  Also, Americans expect to buy more volume of food with more money.  In France, the quality of the food is very important – they are willing to pay more money for the same volume of food if it is of higher quality.

7. Portion size.  To Americans accustomed to oversized plates, the portions look small.  However, they are actually normal in size.  Beverage portions are smaller as well.  The smallest size beverage at Starbucks in America is equivalent to a “large” in France.  Soft drinks are also served in small bottles and cans. 

1 Comment
Posted Nov 18, 2009 12:57 PM by Heidi K.
We Americans can learn much from the French (and other Europeans). We don't have to sacrific the enjoyment of food to achieve a healthier lifestyle. The lack of exercise and distorted views of proper portion size are our biggest hurdes to overcome. Now if I can just incorporate this into my daily routine...