The French food agency, AFSSA, conducted the INCA 2 survey of the nation’s diet between late 2005 and April 2007, updating data from a similar survey conducted ten years before, known as INCA 1.
Overall, adults indicated some changes in eating habits over the last decade; as well as aiding with quantitative food safety risk assessments and nutrition studies, the data could help food manufacturers understand the changing preferences of their target consumers.
The French now eat 10 per cent more fruit and vegetables than in 1998/9, 11 per cent fewer sweet foods, 16 per cent fewer eggs, 10 per cent less meat, 24 per cent less milk, and 3 per cent fewer starchy foods.
There also looks to be a move away from some of the traditional French foods: Bread and potato consumption (down 7 per cent each), and towards pasta and rice (up 14 per cent).
Traditional croissant-like pastries, sweet pastries and biscuits also look to be falling out of favour (down 13 per cent), and being replaced by more ice cream (up 32 per cent) and chocolate (up 58 per cent).
Eating across the age gap
The survey showed that 18 to 34 year-olds also tended to eat more processed foods or foods that need little or no preparation, such as breakfast cereals, pizza, sandwiches and cold soft drinks.
The 55 to 79 year-olds reported cooking more and eating more unprocessed foods like eggs, fish, fruit and vegetables – as well as continuing to eat more traditional foods like bread, cheese, soup, sugar and confectionery and alcoholic beverages.
Over the last ten years, degradation of the traditional routine of eating three meals a day has continued and appears to be a generational shift.
While 86 per cent of 55 to 79 year-olds and 74 per cent of three to 10 year-olds reported eating thrice daily, amongst 18 to 34 year-olds the figure plummeted to 44 per cent. The rate for 15 to 17 year-olds was even lower, at 34 per cent.
The findings can be largely explained by younger people skipping breakfast, the researchers say. But while the age-meal gap was already in evidence in INCA 1, it has widened over the last decade.
“Therefore, the age and specific lifestyle of young adults seems to add to a generation effect which is increasingly breaking down the traditional dietary routine between 15 and 34 years old,” they wrote.
Despite this, they did note that in all age groups the home has remained the main place to eat.
The study involved 2624 adults (18 to 74 years old) and 1455 children (3 to 17). It was conducted in three waves between late 2005 and April 2007, in order to show seasonal variety.
The participants were recruited by telephone or by face-to-face contact with professional investigators; they were asked to complete a 7-day food record.
Investigators paid two visits to the participants’ homes to ensure correct completion of questionnaires, and followed up with reminder telephone calls between visits.