When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

LA PRESSE

From Canada To The UK, Shedding Light On Quarantine Weight

In developed countries, this long period of self-isolation has caused waistlines to bulge — a serious matter, especially since obesity is a clear COVID-19 risk factor.

Uh ho ...
Uh ho ...
Sylvain Charlebois*

-OpEd-

There's a heaviness to the pandemic that's weighing people down, including in a very literal sense. Here in Canada, polls show that some 40% of the population gained weight since mid-March.

The issue isn't, of course, limited to this country. Nor is there one single explanation for why some people have put on a few extra kilograms of late. But governments are choosing to act now, during the pandemic, to raise awareness among their citizens.

Leading the way is the government of Great Britain, where public initiatives include a ban on television and online junk food advertising before 9 p.m. Restaurant menus will also be required to display calories, while over-the-top marketing campaigns for calorie-heavy foods will have to stop: No more chocolate bars near cash registers that encourage impulse buying.

British authorities are even considering a requirement that calories be displayed on alcoholic products. The "Better Health" campaign, as it's known, will be introduced with expanded weight management plans to serve citizens, and will run for nine months.

But governments are choosing to act now, during the pandemic, to raise awareness among their citizens.

The timing of the campaign is no coincidence: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who lost more than 6 kgs (13 lbs) after suffering a life-threatening COVID-19 infection last May — acknowledged that overweight people are more likely than people of average weight to contract the virus. About 60% of Britons are overweight, including the prime minister himself.

The food and drink industry was quick to react by saying that the initiative was a good thing, even though this kind of campaign isn't to everyone's liking, since certain products are intentionally targeted. Some companies claim that the program is unfair and prevents the British from enjoying themselves.

Here in Canada, research suggests that about 25% of the people have used self-isolating as an opportunity to change their habits and adopt healthier behaviors. But there's also evidence that more than half of the population has had more difficulty staying healthy during this period.

Gaining the infamous "quarantine 15"... — Photo: Szabo Viktor

Either way, the "Great Quarantine" — aside from the stress it caused — has changed our habits. While it is important to stay active to successfully lose and maintain weight, it is also essential to improve diets, as most people consume more calories than they need. Snacks and sales of alcoholic beverages are increasing throughout the West.

Along with nationwide mass advertising, the British campaign will specifically target areas and groups most affected by obesity. Evidence shows that Black, Asian and minority communities are disproportionately affected by obesity and COVID-19.

The British government's effort should be acknowledged for going much further than any other campaign of its kind. First, it is timely, given the pandemic and its impact on certain demographic groups. The program addresses the taboo of obesity, an important factor in the prevention of COVID-19. It is also the first time a health-oriented program has interfered with the way products are sold in stores without using a regressive tax.

Yes, retailer revenues will be affected. But the program will only last nine months. The same goes for advertising and media revenues. But again, these measures are intended to be temporary. It is a kind of pilot project, and one that will no doubt cost the British state a lot of money for advertising and promotion.

Either way, the "Great Quarantine" — aside from the stress it caused — has changed our habits.

Paradoxically, the announcement of the British approach came just 10 days after the same government spent roughly $750 million on restaurant discounts to encourage its citizens to go out more. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August, every citizen will be entitled to a savings of $15 a day every time they visit a restaurant. Any restaurant can participate in the program, even fast-food restaurants where calorie-filled and unhealthy products are sold in abundance. In this regard, there's a glaring lack of consistency.

In Canada, certain practices are already in place: For example, the number of calories is displayed next to each dish on menus. A next and necessary step is to publicly admit that our population is too fat and even fatter than before.

We should use our COVID-19 public service announcements to encourage people to exercise more and lead active lifestyles. True, the importance of protecting oneself should not be overlooked, but it's also a good opportunity to share a more positive message — while giving Canadians a welcome light push.



*Sylvain Charlebois is a Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

**This article was translated with permission from the author.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Society

Gluten-Free In France: Stepping Out Of The Shadows, Heading Upmarket

For those in the haute cuisine world of French food, a no-gluten diet (whether by choice or health requirements) has long been a virtual source of shame. But bakers, chefs and pastry makers are now taking the diet to whole new levels of taste and variety.

photo of a man carrying bread in a field

Paris-based entrepreneur Adriano Farano, in Sicily, where his company's wheat is grown

Adriano Farano's Instagram page
David Barroux

PARIS — The "gluten-free" aren’t hiding anymore.

Whether they avoid the grain protein by choice or by obligation — due to taste, allergies or an intolerance — many stick to a diet seen by the outside world as a little bit funny, or perhaps simply just bland.

For some, being gluten-free even came with some amount of self-consciousness: about being that person, the one who announced at the beginning of dinner that they wouldn’t be eating that bread, or that pasta, or that pastry — or about coming across as precious and complicated, or worse, as a killjoy for everyone else’s gustatory pleasure.

For those who feel that it is hard to speak up, it's often easier just to keep the gluten intolerance to themselves and eat only the vegetables at meals, abstaining from bread and dessert to avoid stomach cramps.

But the times, they are a-changin'. Living without gluten used to feel punitive; now it feels more like an option. The number of gluten-free products has exploded, in both quantity and quality, and there’s never been a better time to join the "no-glu" camp.

In supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants, there are increasingly varied alternatives to gluten. And demand is just as high — €1 billion per year in sales in France alone, according to Nielsen. The research consultancy found that 3% of French households were gluten-free in 2019. Now, that number is 4.4%, which is twice as high as the number of “strictly vegetarian” households.

According to market research firm Kantar, the frequency and number of purchases, as well as the average amount spent for gluten-free products, continues to increase — up 6% compared with 2019.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that gluten-free alternatives are becoming increasingly chic.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest