French Women Get Fat?

France's self-image has always been attractively uniform: Sophisticated and slender.

The French, including Mireille Guiliano, the author of the best-selling "French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure," liked to say they had the secret to not only rich, but healthy, eating.

But it seems as though that may no longer be the case. France is getting fat.

Nearly half the French population is now overweight or obese. French politicians are calling it a national epidemic. They are even enforcing national laws, banning vending machines in schools and passing new taxes on companies that sell unhealthy food.

Alarmed, France has declared war on the waistline. A national healthy-eating campaign poster reads, bluntly: "Obesity kills." The woman behind the campaign said it was, in part, a personal battle. Anne-Sophie Jolly weighs 145 pounds, down from 330.

That Ugly American Influence

The French, Jolly said, are bringing serious problems, like cancer and strokes, onto themselves with their eating habits. Being obese can reduce one's life expectancy by five, 10 or even 15 years, she said.

The reason for France's growing waistline could be that the country is simply becoming more Americanized.

"The way of life has changed," said Dr. Pascale Modaï, a French nutritionist. "The women don't cook anymore. They don't even go to the supermarket. They don't go out of the house. You drive. You don't walk."

French attitudes toward food also seem to have changed. A French supermarket chain filmed ordinary families' eating habits, and the French were shocked to see dinners in front of the television and children making food for themselves.

But as waistlines have changed, so have attitudes toward weight and beauty.

Last fall, famed designer John Galliano put plus-sized models on the catwalk right next to the pencil-thin models. For some in today's France, grande is beautiful.