The Guardian

Paris, March 26:

In Nadine Roussel’s class of five-year-olds at the Centre Scolaire Henri Puchois, Pierre and Claire are poring over a board game. To win it, they have to know that a green bean is a vegetable, yoghurt a dairy product, and bread and potatoes are carbohydrates. On the wall are photos of the day the baker came to show them how to make bread. After, they went out and bought lots of kinds of bread, to taste the difference. Then they put blindfolds on each other, and lashings of strawberry jam on the bread, and they learned that if you do that you can’t tell which kind of bread is which any more. On another wall is a chartfrom a counting lesson a few weeks ago: they were going out to lunch, they had each chosen — with teacher’s help — a balanced three-course meal from the menu, and the chart was to tell the restaurant how many portions of each dish were needed.

So what exactly, for a just-turned-five-year-old, is a balanced meal? “It’s where you don’t eat all the same sorts of food,” said Pierre promptly, “Like if you’re having bread and cheese, for instance, well, you don’t need butter. Butter and cheese, they’re like the same.” In many schoolkids this would be unusual. It is novel even in food-fond France: one French child in eight is now obese, and one in four is expected to be so within 15 years. But Pierre, Claire and their classmates are special. In the Nord-Pas de Calais region where they live, as in most of France, child obesity has more than doubled over the past decade. In their town of Fleurbaix-Laventie, just outside Lille, it is up by just over one per cent. (In fact, the latest figures, due next month, should show the incidence of child obesity here is now falling). “We don’t impose, we don’t ban, we don’t stigmatise,” said Agnes Lommez, coordinator of Fleurbaix-Laventie Ville Sante (FLVS), a food and nutrition project that has been running in what are two small neighbouring towns (combined population: 7,500) since 1992.