By Odna Brinsly
Fat, sugar and salt, three ingredients that have added a new spin to our vocabulary and have given weight to that dreaded word – obesity. In fact, about 50 years ago, there were no statistics for obesity. But now the World Health Organization predicts that there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world by 2015 and more than 700 million of them will be obese. A recent article in The Telegraph of Oct. 16 screamed about how the number of obese people in France had doubled to seven million.
This is a bit perplexing given the fact that France is known for its delicious food, longevity, trim population, and a campaign to rein in childhood obesity. Apparently, I just might be wrong? The French have suddenly found themselves also grappling with the mounting worldwide problem of obesity, which is faced by the British and Americans. In a bid to address this modern-day scourge on society, the French developed a program called Epode. The idea was to focus on teaching kids the essence of physical activity and the importance of making healthy eating choices. The program was rolled out in both public and private schools with the hope that kids would influence their parents’ choices back home.
Epode which stands for”‘Ensemble prévenons l’obésité des enfants,” or “together, we can prevent obesity in children,” was piloted in 10 French villages and yielded promising results. The program aims at preventing a child from becoming overweight and obese by acting on the behavior of the whole family, changing its environment and social norms. Children in all primary schools are taught by Epode dieticians on healthy eating choices and a minimum of two hours of physical activity is built into the week’s routine. Children that are a part of the program have been known to make comments like, “I will have to talk to my father – he eats a lot of rubbish.” In addition, school menus were made healthier and soda machines banned from schools.
French primary schools that adopted the Epode program recorded a drop in obesity levels and improved child and family health. This program has now been replicated in other countries like Spain, Belgium, Canada, and Mexico. It has provided a global forum in the fight against childhood obesity.
But the program was not carried into the teenage group of any school because of fears of anorexia or extreme dieting. And according to the article in The Telegraph, the weight gain was high among 18 to 24-year-olds. This age group has been found to indulge in soda pop and other high calorie snacks while fixated before a computer screen or TV while lying on a couch. The government has blamed the obesity problem on junk food and the industries that peddle it, and the food minister has called for talks on improving food quality. “We are going to work with them on recipes to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat,” said Guillaume Garot, the food minister, in The Telegraph.
Whether these measures will work, we will have to “wait and see” as the world battles with this obesity scourge. Currently in Europe, Britain and Malta have higher rates of obese populations while Romania, Italy, Bulgaria, and France have lower obesity rates.
Image by Healthy Lunch Ideas