- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

PARIS — France is fighting back against an alarming rise in childhood obesity, and candy distributors in public schools are among the first to come under attack.

After a series of often stormy parliamentary debates, a decision was reached to remove about 8,000 machines distributing chocolate, candy and sweet drinks in school recreation rooms.

The French media generally applauded the decision, the first significant effort to combat what some call “a new national scourge.”

Protests by the National Association of Automated Sales (NAAS) were disregarded.

“The children will leave school buildings during breaks and buy their sweets outside,” predicts Jean-Loup Bariller of the NAAS, which represents an estimated 13,000 employees throughout France.

“Bad eating habits start in childhood and are the parents’ fault,” Mr. Bariller say. “Our machines have been installed mainly in high schools and the average student uses them barely once a week.

“By banning our distributors, the politicians have cheaply appeased their consciences,” he adds.

Whoever is at fault, Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says he is deeply concerned. In the past 20 years, obesity among children in France has risen 17 percent. Today, one child in 10 is obese at age 10.

A recent study by the Health and Education Ministries found that 19 percent of children ages 10 and 11 are overweight.

Some nutritional experts blame the rise in obesity on changing behavior patterns. They say “American inventions” such as TV dinners and takeout food are replacing traditional French meals, now served mainly on weekends.

Others say that as more and more women join the work force, the concept of “maman au foyer” (mother as a homemaker) is disappearing and that school-age children often are left to fend for themselves.

Editorial voices are demanding still more measures against obesity, such as including limits on advertising for candy and products containing sugar.

Newspapers contend the situation in France is not as bad as in the United States where, they say, 64 percent of people are overweight and obesity soon will be the main cause of death.

The respected Paris daily Le Figaro has described the attitude toward nourishment in France as “an aberration.”

“From breakfast to dinner, including mid-morning and evening snacks, sugar dominates our diet,” the newspaper observed.

“It is incomprehensible that the school, an apprenticeship of life, has allowed itself to be invaded by machines spewing chocolate bars, cream puffs and cakes coated with chocolate or caramel.”

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