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Mais oui, c’est trop simple!

Stuart Middleton


29 October 2018


Reflecting that a decade ago the book titled French Women Don’t Get Fat was a best-seller, Gavin Mortimer of The Spectator (20 October 2018, p10) decides that it is time for a sequel:  Why French Kids Don’t Get Fat.

“Vending machines are banned in French schools and, as of last month, so are phones. Recreation is about running, jumping and letting off steam, not gaming and texting. Schools don’t permit packed lunches except in cases of severe allergies. Pupils eat lunch in the cafeteria and get a well balanced diet with fresh, nutritious ingredients. My daughter’s school’s website has a ‘menu’ tab and last week she could choose between pâté or green salad with Grùyere for a starter, fish or veal with vegetables for the main course, and Mimolette cheese or natural yoghurt for dessert. There may also be croissants and brioche for breakfast, a crepe or cake for gouter tea.”

Ironically I pick up the NZ Herald (29 October 2018, pA7) and read a story in which a woman here in Auckland who has shed 50kg for the sake of her health. She gives her views on the health implications of obesity. She has certainly earned that right and her main targets are the fatty-food outlets that are killing children. In some pooer areas “there are takeaway joints everywere you look,”she says.

She tells of being appalled to learn that a catalogue of illnesses and diseases which kill are brought on and/or certainly aggravated by the poor dietary habits that this situation encourages. Obesity, alcohol and tobacco are identified as the three men of the Apocalypse. There used to be four horsemen but one died of drug abuse and sugar overload.

But the issue goes more deeply into the community. Is New Zealand prepared to make the hard calls that will protect young people from the ravages of the fast food industry, the sugar drink industry, the tobacco industry? And is the community prepared to show a bit of spine in demanding a better deal for its children.

Schools are a key site for not only banning the danger foods but also for educating young people about health and about the simple understanding that what we put into our mouths will either sustain us or damage us. Schools face the dilemma of the healthy tuck shop under pressure to give in to pastry, sugar and processed foods and if they don’t stock them the dairy and the supermarket down the road will.

Mortimer gets onto the offensive.

“The reason for the supersize difference in British and French children is simple: the French are better parents. They are stricter and more mature. They don’t see their children as friends; they are their offspring, to be educated, disciplined and controlled. The French aren’t afraid to say non.

Of course this is a complex set of issues – not least whether or not NZ schools could learn from French schools even if they had the will to. The immediate default position would that teachers already have too much to do and I agree with that. But… there is a solution to that too.

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  1. Peter Peter

    I guess the billion dollar question left hanging is the relative performance of French v Nz students in education and health indicators (putting aside the chuckle as to how healthy croisants and brioche are!). There is probably also a nice natural experiment running in early childhood centres? We have had kids in both centres that do and don’t provide all the food – some insights from that context may have value?

  2. kathy olsen kathy olsen

    I have just recently been visiting London and attended lunch with my grandchildren. Although some of the options were not deemed ‘healthy’ there was an excellent array of food including lots of fresh salads and fresh fruit. I believe Jamie Oliver has had a big influence – overall I was very impressed…and considering it is free…it is amazing.

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