Although the French diet has traditionally been made up of fresh, locally available produce, fast food is increasingly encroaching on eating habits, particularly amongst young people. The food-related recommendations contained in the new Programme National Nutrition Santé (PNNS) unveiled this month could help provide a boost for food manufacturers seeking to offer healthier, convenient, and appealing meal options.
France has seen a worrying increase in rates of overweight, obesity and associated disease in the last 20 years - particularly amongst the young.
Sixteen percent of French children are now believed to be overweight, compared to just 5 per cent in 1980 - and the figure rises to 25 per cent amongst children from deprived backgrounds. Illnesses associated with poor eating habits, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and also anorexia, are taking a toll on the health budget, costing the country €5bn a year.
The health ministry's new strategy for addressing the problem until 2010 builds on the foundations laid by the first programme initiated in 2001.
It contains a number specific recommendations aimed at changing eating habits, including upping consumption of fruits and vegetables, whatever form they be delivered in. Its action plan includes research to be conducted by scientific collective INRA into obstacles standing in the way of fruit and vegetable consumption, and ways of stimulating it.
It also aims to encourage consumption of whole grains; reduce the consumption of sugary, fatty and salty foods, and ensure that drinking water is available in more public places.
In his introduction to a report outlining the actions and measures of the new programme, health minister Xavier Bertrand said that for a country proud of its gastronomy, food is synonymous with taste, conviviality and the pleasure of being together - and the programme does not seek to oppose this culture. Rather, it seeks to develop a culture of disease prevention.
The report also draws strong links between obesity and the sedentary lifestyle, and a campaign to encourage people to take at least 30 minutes of exercise equivalent to a brisk walk each day is a priority for 2007.