Tuesday, May 20, 2003

New Front in the Battle of the Bulge

[Excerpt from an article on France's efforts to fight growing obesity as the French eat more like Americans. I wonder if the "French Paradox" can be traced to this public health effort at the turn of the last century? - JC]

"These government campaigns did not have weight control as their main objective. At the turn of the 20th century, industrialization had forced many of the rural poor into the cities, and France's infant mortality rate had become so high that it provoked scorn from other European countries. In 1904, the French Public Health Act gave the central government authority to compel local governments to take actions to improve the birth rate."

One important response was a movement known as puericulture. Intent on improving prenatal and maternal health, puericulture advocates set up clinics all over the country to teach young mothers how to breastfeed. The state required any factory doing business with the government to set aside areas for lunchtime breastfeeding.

Puericulturists also taught that overfeeding was as bad as, if not worse than, underfeeding. A prominent obstetrician, Pierre Budin, who shocked the 1903 Conference on Hygiene with this view, liked to tell his medical students, "I always prefer to err by giving a little too little than by giving too much." Thus, early in its modern history, the French government lectured mothers on the medical value of dietary control.

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