The rates of childhood obesity in the United States and France are high, as well as the prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases. In both countries, the government and private sector have stepped in, making strides toward solving these crucial problems.

On November 26, Sopexa, the French marketing agency for food, wine, and lifestyle, organized a conference at the International Culinary Center in New York called “Eating for Pleasure, Eating for Health: French and American views on teaching children about food.”

©BrakeThrough Media

©BrakeThrough Media

The conference examined each country’s relationship with eating in order to establish the key differences between American and French food culture, concluding that:

  • In France, it appears that eating is, above all, a social act, and it is a major subject of society and politics, whereas it is mainly an individual act in the United States.
  • Taking one’s time, sharing meals, and eating a variety of foods are important elements in French food culture.
  • Family is a key educator about how to eat well, and also transmits core values and etiquette.

Focus was then shifted to initiatives undertaken by the United States and France, equipping both countries with new means of educating their youth about how to eat well, especially at school. The main conclusions were:

  • The school’s role seems to be very different in France and in the United States.
  • In the United States, school cafeterias help fight malnutrition, as studies show that children who are not fed properly at home have difficulty studying.
  • In France, the school cafeteria is a place where one takes time to eat and socialize.
  • School remains a pillar of food education in both cases, but family also plays an important role.
©BrakeThrough Media

©BrakeThrough Media

A diverse group of speakers were present, including:

  • Claude Fischler, head of the Interdisciplinary Institute for Contemporary Anthropology in Paris.
  • Paul Rozin, Psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on the psychological, cultural, and biological determinants of human food choice.
  • Karen Le Billon, professor, director, and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, and author of French Kids Eat Everything.
  • Janet Poppendieck, professor emerita of Sociology at Hunter College of the City University of New York, and author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.
  • Nancy Easton, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Wellness in the Schools, which inspires healthy eating, environmental awareness, and fitness as a way of life for kids in New York City public schools.
  • Greg Silverman, Senior Manager of Educational Outreach for Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program. Greg recently returned from living in the United Kingdom, where he worked for the City of London to help combat childhood obesity through grass-roots culinary skills.

Reporters from the New York Times, L’Express, and Parenting magazine attended the conference, as well as bloggers, chefs, researchers, and teachers. Marion Nestle, an American sociologist who teaches at New York University and blogs about nutrition and food security, was also present.

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