France Adopts New Tool in Obesity Fight: No More Free Soda Refills

The change is part of a far-reaching public health law passed a year ago. The French have curbed candy machines and even french fries.

Public health officials in France have raised the bar in the war on obesity: they’ve banned the free soda refill.

In an order issued last week, France adopted regulation consistent with calls a year ago from the World Health Organization (WHO), which asked nations to target sugary beverages in campaigns to stop obesity. The WHO called for curbs on marketing, especially methods aimed at children.

The ban on free soda refills is part of a broader campaign in France to fight obesity, which was the subject of a law passed a year ago. While free refills are a common marketing practice in restaurants around the globe, they were not as common in France, and health officials were determined to keep it that way.

Compared to other developed countries, France has kept obesity rates low. But they are creeping up, and now 41% of women and 57% of men between age 30 and 60 are considered overweight. The rising problem, despite the country’s efforts to fight it, has triggered several proactive measures.

Officials removed candy machines from schools in 2004, well ahead of similar efforts in the United States. And in 2011, the campaign against obesity targeted french fries—they can only be served in school cafeterias once a week. The order also banned ketchup, but that was designed to protect French culture, not waistlines.

The order, which took effect Friday, means hotels, restaurants, and school cafeterias will no longer have fountains where customers and children can refill their drinks.