Does Slow Food and More Sleep Keep France Slim?

Readers of these pages may recall an earlier post in which I proclaimed that the problem with fast food was more the “fast” than the “food” (no time to be thin? Jan 17, 2008). I have also regularly blogged on the emerging science on sleep (or rather lack thereof) and weight gain (Is Sleep Apnea a Significant Problem in Sleepy Kids? Jan 15, 2009).

Now, a new OECD report on social trends, including things like time spent on meals and time spent sleeping, shows that France, a country known for being one of the slimmest in Europe (10% obesity), spends the most time eating and sleeping compared to countries like Mexico or Canada with markedly higher obesity rates (around 20%).

According to the report, the French spend on average nearly 9 hours a day in bed and more than 2 hours a day eating and drinking — nearly twice as much time at the table as Americans, Canadians or Mexicans.

This of course does not imply that the French eat more – in fact, it is easier to overeat when you are gorging and gulping down your food than if you sit down to a slow 3 course meal (remember, the enteric-hypothalamic satiety axis operates on a 20-40 min time frame).

While there is only so much that can be derived from these type of comparisons, the findings are remarkably consistent with the emerging science of the importance of stress and sleep in relationship to obesity.

But there are certainly inconsistencies: Americans, with one of the highest rates of obesity, get almost as much sleep as the French; Koreans and Japanese, with less obesity, are at the lower end of the sleep scale.

So although obesity may well be a “symptom” of a society that does not take enough time to eat and sleep – the relationship is unlikely to be that straightforward.

Nevertheless, I’d certainly like to see an intervention trial that examines the effect of slow eating and more sleep on obesity prevention or management – may have to move to France to do it?

Edmonton, Alberta