Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Childhood obesity

Thin living

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 13 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1236
  1. Hannah Westley, freelance journalist
  1. 1France
  1. hannah.westley{at}

    In an attempt to tackle climate change and obesity, health secretary, Alan Johnson, thinks the UK should follow the French lead and develop healthy towns. Hannah Westley describes the first 10 towns taking part in France

    The campaign EPODE (Ensemble, prévenons l’obésité des enfants or Together, let’s prevent obesity in children) was launched in January 2004 in 10 towns in different regions of France. Interested towns applied to be considered and the organisers made a selection based on diversity.

    Over the course of five years, the target group children, aged between 5 and 12 years, are measured and weighed annually to calculate their body mass index. In an interview with a school doctor, parents are given a letter explaining their child’s weight status and guidelines for diet and physical activity.

    Overweight or at-risk children are encouraged to see a doctor while each town receives suggestions for activities, diets, and community initiatives. Leaflets are distributed in shops and supermarkets. Each town can also set up local initiatives which are submitted to the central committee for approval. Simple initiatives include eating a healthy breakfast, safe routes for walking to school, learning about vegetables in the classroom, inviting food professionals to talk in schools, organised games at playtime, and “discovery sessions” for finding out more about new foods.

    The programme was launched after the success of a similar campaign in two towns in the region of Nord Pas de Calais, Fleurbaix and Laventie. Between 1992 and 1997, these towns followed a nutritional programme intended to change children’s eating habits; 80% of the two towns’ populations participated. The programme included special lessons in schools and colleges, distribution of 7200 breakfasts in schools, and factory visits. Local doctors supported the project, and teachers were shown how to incorporate healthy eating into the curriculum. Dietitians visited …

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