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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Fat French? The Battle of the Bulge

Aired June 13, 2003 - 19:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it might not be of crisis proportions, but it seems the French are facing a pretty huge cultural shift. They're getting fat. So now battling the bulge has become somewhat of a national priority.
CNN's Jim Bittermann looks at how they're measuring up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): France is taking stock. For the next 18 months, in every corner of the country, the French will be measuring themselves in the largest controlled study in 30 years. Using the very latest in gadgetry, the researchers plan to convince at least 12,000 volunteers to strip down to their underwear and stand still for the 3-D cameras.

Morphologists here, who have dedicated their lives to sizing people up, are eager to weigh the data. And it may be weighty data indeed because even before the results are in, the man who designed the study, Professor Regis Mollard, knows that his countrymen are not only growing taller, but wider.

REGIS MOLLARD, PROF., APPLIED ANTHROPOLOGY: We suspect that part of the population is fatter than in the past. And the result of the survey will confirm that maybe.

BITTERMAN: In fact, contrary to the emaciated stereotypes and the fashion show catalogs here, the reality is somewhat different. Doctors say now more than 10 percent of the French are clinically obese. It's three times that rate in the U.S., but statistics are on the rise in both countries for much the same reason: more junk food, and less active lives.

(on camera): Of course, this country has always been a notch or two ahead when it comes to weight control, in part because for more than a century, obstetricians here have taught parents it's better to underfeed rather than overfeed their children, something you don't hear on the other side of the Atlantic.

(voice-over): The nationwide campaign to determine how everyone now measures up is being sponsored for the most part by clothing makers and retailers who need to resize things to fit the new realities.

But they're not the only ones who will benefit. ANNE SOREI, KIABI STORES: We can follow people who make cars or in the Planes. We know we have to have larger or longer seats. Everybody is interested because our morphology is changing.

BITTERMAN: And perhaps the most interested are the volunteers themselves, like Alexis Masseur who can never find pants long enough, and who says, like many others who are willing to stand around in their underwear, that he wants to make sure the statistics fit the real shape the country is in.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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