The average diet in France
What does a typical diet contain?
Based on the results of the INCA 2 study, adults consume 2.8 kg of food and beverages each day.
Children between 3 and 10 years of age consume nearly 1.6 kg, while both the 11-14 and 15-18 age groups consume about 1.9 kg.
What is the nutritional composition of the diet?
INCA 2 shows that the adult population’s diet contains 44% carbohydrates, 39% fats, and 17% proteins. However, the recommended daily calorie intake is composed of 50% carbohydrates, 35% to 40% fats, and 15% proteins.
In view of these recommendations, we still consume too much fat and proteins, and not enough carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates found for example in bread and cereals.
What does an average adult’s diet contain, excluding drinks?
- 250 g of cereals and starchy foods
- 200 g of dairy products
- 140 g of fruit
- 140 g of vegetables, excluding potatoes
- 90 g of meat and poultry
What do childrens’ diets contain on average, excluding drinks?
- 270 g of dairy products
- 180 g of starchy foods
- 80 g of vegetables, excluding potatoes
- 70 g of pastries, biscuits and cakes
- 70 g of fruit
Which foodstuffs have seen the greatest changes in consumption levels since 1999?
Sugar and its derivatives (jam or honey): -27% in men, children and adolescents, and -22% in women.
Meat and offal meats: -20% in children, -17% in adolescents, and -16% in women.
Ice-cream and iced desserts: +30% in adults.
1999- 2007, encouraging signs and areas for improvement
Since a similar methodology was used, it was possible to compare the results of INCA 2 directly with data collected in 1999.
This comparison shows an improvement in the nutritional status of the population, characterised specifically by:
- an increase in consumption of fruit in adults and adolescents;
- a decrease in consumption of alcoholic beverages in adults;
- a decrease in the consumption of salt, though still insufficient;
- a stabilisation of energy intake in adults, and a significant decrease in children below 14 years of age.
However, improvements are needed in some areas, particularly:
- carbohydrate and fibre content is still too low;
- a trend showing irregular eating patterns is found in young adults (15-35 years of age) and has become more pronounced since 1999;
- young adults do not consume enough fruit and vegetables;
- the level of physical activity is overall insufficient, particularly among teenage girls (15-17 years of age).
Overweight and obesity
The prevalence of overweight, excluding obesity (1), is higher in the adult male population: nearly four in ten men are overweight versus one in four women. However, obesity affects men and women equally and concerns 11.6% of the adult population. Overweight and obesity increase with age, both in men and women.
Overweight (2) among children is independent of gender or age and affects 14% of the 3-17 year age group, with the proportion of obese children nearly reaching 3%. Comparison of the results for overweight, including obesity, between the INCA 1 (1998-99) and INCA 2 studies indicates stabilisation of levels among children over the past 8 years.
For the population as a whole, prevalence of overweight and obesity is higher in groups with lower education levels.
(1) WHO definition (World Health Organization, 1997)
(2) Overweight and obesity were evaluated based on the OTF Obesity Task Force international definition (Cole, 2000)
A need for more physical activity, especially among teenage girls
Less than half the adult population has a level of physical activity "providing health benefits" (1), and a quarter have a low level of physical activity (2). More men reach a level of physical activity associated with health benefits (1 in 2) than women (4 in 10).
Less than 1 in 2 adolescents aged 15-17 years reach this level of physical activity and 17% have a low level. However, there is a marked difference between the sexes: more than 6 boys in 10 have a level of physical activity with health benefits, while this proportion drops to less than 1 in 4 among girls.
(1) Defined by a high score based on the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) protocol
(2) Based on the IPAQ protocol definition of a low score
Pronounced geographic differences
In France, there are deeply-rooted regional differences concerning eeating habits. Use of fats is a notable example: in the north and west, higher quantities of butter are consumed, while oils are preferred in the south and east. Other characteristic features of the diet include consumption of potatoes and sugary foods in the north, and vegetables in the south. Between the east and west, differences mainly concern dairy products (milk, fresh dairy products and dairy-based desserts in the west, cheese in the east), and the extent of processing of foods.
These eating patterns naturally have an effect on nutrient, vitamin and mineral intakes. Regional variations in the consumption of fats lead to higher intakes of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E in the south, where oil is an important component, and higher intakes of saturated fatty acids in the north and west, butter constituting the main source of saturated fatty acids. Given the higher consumption of vegetables, intake of a number of micronutrients is also higher in the south.
Concerning obesity and physical activity, there is a clear distinction between the north and the south. Specifically, the proportion of adults with a level of physical activity that is beneficial to health is lower in the north of France, along with a higher prevalence of obesity: 14.4% versus 10.4% in the south.
Diet in detail
In 2006/2007, adults consumed on average a little more than 2.7 kg of food and drink per day. This corresponds to a mean of about 2 200 kcal, (1 855 kcal/day for women and 2 500 kcal/day for men). More than half of this intake is in the form of liquids.
Compared to men, women consume more fresh dairy products, fish, fruit, water, non-alcoholic beverages and sweet items like biscuits, pastries and cakes, ice-cream and chocolate. Men consume more meat, delicatessen-type meats, potatoes, and dried fruit, and tend to drink more alcoholic beverages.
Eating habits also depend on age. Overall, older adults spend more time cooking than the younger generations, and this has an effect on the type of foods consumed. Young adults tend to eat more processed foods or those that require little preparation, such as cereals for breakfast or pizzas. Older people tend to consume more unprocessed produce (eggs, fish, fruits and vegetables) and traditional foods, such as bread, cheese and soup.
Children between 3 and 17 years of age consume on average a third less food than adults, with an amount of about 1.8 kg of food and drinks daily. Boys, who have higher energy intakes than girls, eat more cereals, starchy foods, dairy products, meat, and snack-type foods.
Eating times and social contact
In 2007, the traditional French regimen of three main meals, possibly with a mid-afternoon snack, was generally still the norm. However, young adults and adolescents do not always have breakfast. These differences between the age groups were more pronounced in 2007. However, as in 1999, meals remain a time of social interaction very strongly associated with family. When no family is present, meals are shared with friends or colleagues.
A study with high added value
The results of the INCA 2 study are used on a regular basis by ANSES and by other research organisations for many different purposes, including evaluation of nutritional intake in the population, assessment of the risks related to the presence of pesticide residues in foods, quantitative determination of microbiological risks, and monitoring of food additive consumption.
The Agency has already made use of these data by carrying out studies on the relationships between overweight, physical activity and socio-demographic factors, population intake of trans fatty acids, estimations of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, calcium and vitamin C intake via the content of school catering meals, and the EAT2 study on exposure to chemical substances present in food.
The INCA 2 study also serves as a key tool for researchers, professionals and industry, who access the data for analyses in their areas of activity.