Food is a celebrated element of French culture. That includes not only gastronomy, culinary heritage and quality products, but also tradition and food habits such as “three meals a day” and eating together. However, French eating habits have changed, as studies since 1986 have shown.
Eating Time and Habits Have Changed
According to the latest statistics report, in 2010, French people devoted in average 2 hours and 22 minutes every day to eat, which is 13 minutes more than they did in 1986. However, they spent less time cooking than in 1986 (53 minutes in 2010 compared to one hour and 11 minutes in 1986, representing an 18 minutes drop). Women spent less time eating than men (2 hours and 20 minutes for women compared to 2 hours and 25 minutes for men). The average eating time for seniors is 2 hours and 34 minutes a day, compared to 2 hours and 13 minutes for those under 40 years of age.
A quarter of all meals are eaten outside the house, which is the same rate as 1986. However, this rate is much higher among young people (representing 41% of their meals). Meals at home last longer than those outside.
The new statistics report shows that French people give more priority to ready-to-eat food compared to fresh products, and snack more than before. Moreover, the fast food industry has been developing quickly for several years.
But Traditions Still Keep On
French really do attach importance to their “three meals a day.” Meals are considered as pleasant as reading or listening to music. But, their time slots have changed.
Breakfast is taken around 8 am. Moreover, it is more and more being sacrificed by young people. Only 64% of people under 25 eat between 5 am and 11 am.
Lunch time seems to be fixed at around 1 pm, but 60% of executives, self-employed persons and intermediate professionals sometimes don’t have lunch.
Dinner time is after 8 pm, which is later than in 1986, and one out of four people spend it in front of the TV.
Most French people think it is important to take their meal together with family or friends. Senior citizens and women place the most importance on eating socially.
Snacking and TV Habits
Apart from an apéritif or afternoon tea, 30% of French people snack from time to time and 15% of them snack very often. Young people have higher snacking habits: 41% of people under 25 sometimes snack and 29% of them snack very often. In comparison 20% of senior citizens sometimes snack.
19% of eating time was spent in front of TV in 2010, which represents a three-point-increase in comparison with 1986. One out of 10 used to have a TV breakfast, one out of five had a TV lunch and one out of four had a TV dinner.
Obesity Progression Seems to be Slowing Down but Remains High
For 15 years, French scientists have been working together in order to analyze the prevalence of obesity and overweight in France every three years. The 2012 ObEpi report, the 6th epidemiological study of this working group, has just been published. The study was conducted from January to March 2012 with more than 25,000 participants over the age of 18.
This study highlights that levels of obesity in France remain stable after a marked increase for several years. It was 14.5% in 2009, compared to 15% in 2012. By contrast, the obesity rate increased by 10.7% between 2006 and 2009.
According to a 2008 statistics report, 39% of men and 24% of women over 18 were overweight, which translates to nearly 15 million overweight French adults.
Obesity affected 11% of men and 13% of women (nearly seven million French people). There are 3.3 million more obese people than in 1991, representing a five-point-increase.
According to the ObEpi 2012 report, between 2009 and 2012, the obesity rate of young people (between 18 and 24 years old) has grown up to 35%. However, the increase in obesity among children seems to be slowing. Obesity has increased more quickly for women than for men since 2003. The situation gives cause for concern even if the overall rate of increase of obesity seems to be slowing down.
Genetic factors and types of food eaten play an obvious role in obesity. But, eating habits and time are also important factors to consider. Indeed, it has been shown that having less than three meals a day increases the risk for obesity because it encourages snacking and large side meals. Moreover, spending time eating in front of the TV or computer screen also increases the risk for obesity.
Besides, difficulties in buying healthy food (which is often more expensive), job insecurity, stress from work, and difficulties in finding time to exercise can also contribute to obesity. The obesity rate is under average for people who say they are in a comfortable financial situation, while 30% of people with debts are obese.
Finally, according to the ObEpi 2012 report, there is a regional disparity. The obesity rate declines from North to South: 21.3% of French people are obese in Nord-Pas de Calais region, compared to 11.6% in Midi-Pyrénées; and from East to West: 18.6% of French people are obese in Alsace, compared to 12% in Bretagne. No explanation of this phenomenon is given in the ObEpi report.