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The French Paradox: Do French Women (& Men) Get Fat?
January 21, 2014
The French Paradox: Do French Women (& Men) Get Fat?

We often hear about the “French paradox” and how the French eat a lot of foods like butter and cheese. Their diets are high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, yet they have lower rates of heart disease than Americans. There was even a best-selling book called, French Women Don’t Get Fat.

However, a study published in the British Medical Journal back in 1999, looked at this phenomenon and discussed several technical issues why there is an apparent paradox,  including a difference in the way heart disease deaths are counted.  

More recently, a study by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., really points out another important and often missing piece to this apparent paradox.

Brian Wansink also wrote the book Mindless Eating in which he looks at external and environmental cues that influence how much we eat without us realizing it. It is a real eye-opening read.

The study, “Internal and External Cues of Meal Cessation: The French Paradox Redux?” was published in the journal Obesity (Vol. 15, No. 12, 2007). The researchers examined whether there was a difference in the cues or signals between the French and American subjects to see when they knew they had consumed enough food and, in turn, stopped eating. The results, while not surprising, tell us more about the toxic food environment we live in and how it influences us to eat more than we think we are.

From the study…
The French were more likely to report food behaviors that suggested that they used internal cues of meal cessation rather than external cues of meal cessation.

More so than Americans, the French reported that they stopped eating:

  • when they started to feel full,
  • when they wanted to leave room for dessert,
  • and when they no longer felt hungry.

In contrast, Americans reported food behaviors that suggested that they tended to use external cues of meal cessation rather than internal cues.

More so than the French, Americans reported that they stopped eating:

  • when others thought it was normal, 
  • when they ran out of a beverage,
  • and when the television show they were watching was over.

You just gotta love those Americans . . .

Then we wonder why there is an apparent “paradox?”

The reality is, there is no paradox and the evidence proves this point.

A study published by the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) of France, showed that 31.9 percent of people over 18 were overweight in 2009, up from 29.8 percent in 1997.  In addition, 14.5 percent were obese, up from 8.5 percent in 1997.

Despite the image created by best-selling books like French Women Don’t Get Fat, obesity has become more pronounced in that group. According to INSERM, 15.1 percent of French women were obese in 2009, in contrast to 13.9 percent of men. In 1997, 8.3 percent of women were obese, compared with 8.8 percent of men.

You can’t violate the laws of nature and sadly best-selling books and the media do not give you the full story.

French women (& men) do get fat.

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