12/07/2017 5 min

INCA 3: Changes in consumption habits and patterns, new issues in the areas of food safety and nutrition

Today ANSES is publishing the results of INCA 3, its third study on the food consumption and eating habits of the French population. More than 5800 people (3157 adults between the ages of 18 and 79 years and 2698 children between the ages of 0 and 17 years) participated in this large-scale national survey that mobilised almost 200 interviewers in 2014 and 2015. The participants were asked 150 questions about their lifestyle and eating habits and 13,600 days of consumption were recorded, generating data for 320,000 foods consumed. It took a total of six years to update the snapshot of the food consumption habits of the French population.

On average, French people consume 2.9 kg of food per day, i.e. around 2200 kcal, 50% of which come from beverages. Women generally prefer yoghurts and soft white cheese (fromage blanc), fruit purees, poultry and soups. As for men, they tend to enjoy cheese, meat, delicatessen meat, potatoes and cream desserts. The French population is consuming even more processed products, significantly more food supplements than in 2007, too much salt, and most importantly, not enough fibre.
There are also some practices that potentially pose additional risk: growing consumption of raw foods of animal origin, temperatures in refrigerators that are not always appropriate, and use-by dates that are more frequently exceeded.  

Lastly, levels of physical activity and sedentariness in France can be described as unsuitable: physical activity is insufficient for a large part of the population, and time spent in front of screens every day (outside of working hours) continues to rise, with an average increase over the last seven years of 20 minutes for children, and 1 hour and 20 minutes for adults.

These new data provided by the INCA 3 study are essential for the work undertaken by the Agency in the area of food. Carried out within the framework of a harmonised procedure at European level, this work will enable recommendations to be made in line with the current practices of the French population.

The INCA studies are essential tools for assessing the risks related to food. They improve knowledge of habits in the French population (choice of foods, preparation, consumption of food supplements, levels of physical activity and sedentariness). Later combined with ANSES's databases on the composition of foods, they determine intakes of beneficial substances found in foods (vitamins, essential fatty acids, etc.).

The French diet

On average, children up to the age of 10 years consume 1.6 kg of food and beverages per day. This quantity increases to 2.2 kg for adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17 years, and 2.9 kg for adults aged 18 to 79 years. Beverages account for more than half of this daily intake, and water accounts for half of the beverages consumed.

According to the INCA 3 study, men eat more than women. The latter prefer yoghurts, soft white cheese (fromage blanc), fruit purees, poultry, soups and hot beverages, while the former favour cereal products, cheese, meat and delicatessen meat, and cream desserts.

The diet of the French population contains a high percentage of processed foods and still slightly too much salt (9 g/day for men and 7 g/day for women on average, compared to the French National Health and Nutrition Programme's objectives of 8 g/day and 6.5 g/day respectively). Fibre intakes (20 g/day on average for adults) still appear too low in relation to ANSES's recommendations (30 g/day). The French population is also consuming more and more food supplements, as well as many foods derived from their own production (including water, via private wells) or that of a friend or relation.

There are disparities in behaviour according to age, gender, level of education, and region. For example, adults between the ages of 65 and 79 years consume more home-made foods, men consume more raw foods of animal origin, individuals with at least four years of higher education consume more fruits and half as many cold non-alcoholic beverages, and residents of large urban areas consume more fish, confectionery, chocolate and fruit juice than those of rural areas (who consume more delicatessen meat, vegetables and cheese), etc

New behaviours potentially posing a greater risk to health

The results of the INCA 3 study show the emergence of new issues in terms of the microbiological safety of food. Indeed, a number of practices potentially posing a risk are more frequent in the INCA 3 study: increase in the consumption of raw foods of animal origin (mainly fish and beef), longer storage times before consumption of perishable foodstuffs, use-by dates that are more frequently exceeded, and inappropriate temperatures sometimes found in refrigerators.

Moreover, the body weight status and level of physical activity of the French population remain inadequate. In 2014-2015, 13% of children and adolescents (up to the age of 17) and 34% of adults aged 18 to 79 years were overweight, and respectively 4% and 17% were obese. In addition, the percentage of individuals with sedentary behaviour is alarming, since half of adolescents aged 11 to 14 years, two thirds of adolescents aged 15 to 17 years and more than 80% of adults aged 18 to 79 years are concerned. Over a seven-year period, the average daily time spent in front of a screen, outside of work/study hours, increased by 20 minutes for children, and by 1 hour and 20 minutes for adults.

The efforts implemented in the framework of national policy must therefore be strengthened. These efforts should focus on improving food from a nutritional point of view, promoting physical activity, and reducing sedentariness.

What action should be taken following INCA 3?

The INCA 3 study is an essential database for ANSES's expert appraisal activities. The data collected will thus be exploited, over the next few years, to respond to any future requests that ANSES is required to take on regarding the assessment of food-related nutritional, physico-chemical or microbiological risks in metropolitan France.

Among other things, ANSES is planning to undertake in-depth analyses of the data from the INCA 3 study in connection with risk assessments, in particular the assessment of risks related to inadequate nutrient intakes of macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein), fatty acids, vitamins and minerals in adults, and the assessment of risks related to sedentariness and insufficient physical activity.

Thus, the data collected in the context of the INCA 3 study are already enabling ANSES to issue public health recommendations that are more in line with the habits of the French population, while keeping one step ahead of emerging risks.