America’s Values Are Spreading to France
French women have a reputation for being sexy beauties. Of course, that's just a stereotype, and not every lady in France looks like a young Bridgette Bardot, nor every man a Jean-Paul Belmondo. And now it seems even less likely, as France has not only welcomed American fast food with open arms, but now (probably as a result of those open arms) has begun to take interest in our weight loss centers.1
Approximately one in three adults in France is overweight, and the rate is rising. Just between 2006 and 2009, the amount of overweight people in France rose by an astounding 11 percent, according to a 2009 study conducted by the National Health Research Institute.2 Some of those newly overweight citizens, rather than turning to natural diet plans and losing weight naturally, are turning to weight loss centers such as Jenny Craig to try to shed the excess. You can't get much more American than that -- forgetting the fact, of course, that Jenny started in Australia.
And Jenny Craig is certainly reaping the benefits only two years into their first foray into France. Growth is steadily strong at the diet emporium's French outlets, which have expanded in number to 18 around the country. Their competitor, Weight Watchers International, also reports that business in France is booming, and that France is their leader in enrollment growth throughout continental Europe as of the third business quarter for 2011.
But back to Jenny Craig. Their diet plan relies on a combination of pre-made, low-calorie meals and weekly support sessions either over the phone or in person at a center. Depending on the location of the center, the corporate office makes changes to the cuisine offered, so in France, for instance, a Jenny Craig dieter might be dining on their version of beef bourguignon as opposed to such American options as meatloaf or macaroni and cheese. They "recommend" exercising as well. But as long as you buy the food, who really cares?
Jenny Craig has grown right alongside the global obesity epidemic. Founded in Australia, it has reached massive proportions with more than 725 centers around the world. Most locations are in the United States (no surprise there), Australia, and Canada. The company was purchased by mega-conglomerate Nestle in 2006 for $600 million. This would seem a bit of a contradiction for Nestle, known more for its chocolate bars and ice cream offerings than any sort of wellness. Then again, they did have their Sweet Success line of diet shakes several years ago, and now they're running their Optifast program through weight loss clinics. In any case, it's really almost genius: make money by helping the population get fat with tons of high-calorie snacks, then take the same people's money once again helping them to trim back down with your diet plans. Nestle also produces some foods for the European market, such as instant noodles and frankfurters, and has lowered the sodium content of products like these to make them "healthier." That's some commitment to our well being.
But it's not only companies such as Nestle that have flooded the world market with unhealthy processed foods. Fast-food chains have proliferated throughout the globe, and their presence always seems to spell trouble. For example, McDonald's had a 79 percent increase in revenue in France between 2004 and 2009 -- pretty much in lockstep with the soaring rates of obesity. While the traditional French diet is known to feature creamy sauces, buttery croissants, and rich cheeses, the fare also incorporates a great deal of fresh and natural produce and does not lend itself to the major weight problems that American junk food does.
Let's also face the fact that the Jenny Craig's of the world may be able to help people lose weight, but it does not really qualify as losing weight naturally, which means that eventually the weight tends to come back on -- something Jenny Craig has actually been legally required to tell customers for a number of years now.3 And having food that's prepared for you doesn't prepare you for when you leave the program and have to work at making meals yourself. Many people slip back into bad drive-thru habits at that point. Plus, "recommending" exercise doesn't mean the clients will actually do it, especially if they are seeing the numbers drop on the scale from eating lower calorie food alone.
And that means you may be getting thinner, at least out of the gate, but not necessarily healthier. Studies have confirmed that people who maintain their weight through diet rather than exercise are likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even if they are otherwise slim.4 It's that internal fat that surrounds the vital organs that is far more dangerous than the fat you can see under the skin. Obese people who exercise are actually at lower risk of mortality than thin people who are sedentary.
So ultimately, whether you are French or not, if Jenny Craig or a similar program gives you the push you need to start losing excess weight, go for it. Just combine it with a regular exercise routine and do a little research on nutrition and more natural diet plans. Set yourself up for a healthy lifestyle instead of a temporary diet fix.
1 Doherty, Dermot and Fourcade, Marthe. "France's Unlikely Import: Weigth Loss Centers." Businessweek. 12 January 2012. Accessed 22 March 2012. <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/frances-unlikely-import-weight-loss-centers-01122012.html>.
2 "Real French women really do get fat: study." Reuters. 10 November 2009. Accessed 22 March 2012. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/11/10/us-france-obesity-idUSTRE5A93I220091110>.
3 David Lawsky. "Jenny Craig must warn weight loss is only temporary." 29 May 1997. Dimensions Online. (Accessed 23 March 2012.) <http://www.dimensionsmagazine.com/dimtext/news/jcraig.html>
4 "Thin people can be fat on the inside." MSNBC. 11 May 2007. Accessed 22 March 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18594089/ns/health-fitness/t/thin-people-can-be-fat-inside/#.T20moxzQLtQ>.