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What is France's secret for slimmer bodies? Easy: eat less

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PARIS, Aug 25 (AFP) - It's one of those problems that have puzzled scientists for more than a decade: How do the French -- with all their butter-rich croissants, tasty chocolates, rich foie gras and cellars of wine -- stay so slim?

The answer, it seems, is simple -- they eat less.

A group of researchers from France's CNRS science institute and the University of Pennsylvania in the United States hit upon the apparently obvious reason for the so-called "French paradox" after hours of comparing eating habits in 11 restaurants and fast-food joints like McDonald's, supermarket food packages and cookbook measurements in both countries.

Their results, published in the September issue of the US review Psychological Science, shows why only seven percent of French people are obese, compared to 22 percent of Americans, and why deadly heart disease is so much lower in France despite higher cholesterol levels.

The French, they found, are served much smaller portions -- an average 277 grammes (9.8 ounces) -- than their transatlantic counterparts, who receive an average of 346 grammes (12.2 ounces), or around 25 percent more, on their plates.

In the supermarkets, they are also offered smaller portions to take home, and the cookbooks routinely advise domestic chefs to whip up dinners that would leave an American asking for seconds.

Over time, the difference in calories consumed per day goes much further to explain the disparity in girth between the French and the Americans than simply concentrating on the amount, or sort, of fats eaten, the researchers found.

Thus, while the French happily munch their way through food such as duck in thick sauce, mouthwatering cakes or chunky stews that would have many Americans looking for the next scale, they put on weight at a much lower rate.

"While the French eat more fat than Americans, they probably eat slightly fewer calories, which when compounded over years can amount to substantial differences in weight," Paul Rozin, the lead author and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

Observations in McDonald's restaurants also showed that the French took longer to eat their meals, which in turn meant they often felt full with less food in their stomach.

In the supermarkets, it seems US shopping carts are under more duress than those in France because candy bars are 41 percent bigger than the ones on Paris shelves, soft drinks come in at 52 percent bigger, and hot dogs were 63 percent bigger.

Tying the findings to the psychology of consumers, the researchers suggested that people simply tuck into what's on offer.

"If food is moderately palatable, people tend to consume what is put in front of them and generally consume more the more food is put in front of them, " said Rozin.

"The French, with smaller portion sizes and probably lower level of snacking, have created a friendlier environment oriented toward moderation. The American emphasis on changing the individual to control weight has been generally unsuccessful," he said.



COPYRIGHT 2003 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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