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Smaller food portions may explain the 'French paradox' of rich foods and a svelte population

PHILADELPHIA -- The "French paradox" -- the perplexing disconnect between France's rich cuisine and slender population -- can be explained in part by portions that are significantly smaller in French restaurants and supermarkets than in their American counterparts. So say researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and CNRS in Paris, who compared the size of restaurant meals, single-serve foods and cookbook portions on both sides of the Atlantic.

"The French paradox is only a paradox if one assumes that dietary fat is the major cause of obesity and cardiovascular disease," said Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at Penn and lead author of a paper in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science. "However, recent studies suggest that the importance of fat intake as a risk factor has been greatly exaggerated.

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."

The French paradox has long stymied American dieters and scientists, puzzled by the ability of the French to remain trim while downing buttery croissants, creamy brie and decadent pastries. Just 7 percent of French adults are obese, as compared with 22 percent of Americans, and the mortality rate from heart disease is significantly lower in France.

Rozin and his colleagues weighed portions at 11 comparable pairs of eateries in Paris and Philadelphia, including fast-food outlets, pizzerias, ice cream parlors and a variety of ethnic restaurants. They found the mean portion size across all Paris establishments was 277 grams, compared to a mean in Philadelphia of 346 grams -- 25 percent more than in Paris.

In just one of the 11 comparisons, between Hard Rock Cafes in both cities, were the Parisian portions larger. Three other international restaurant chains consistently served larger portions in the U.S., and Philadelphia's Chinese resta
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Contact: Steve Bradt
bradt@pobox.upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
21-Aug-2003


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