How healthy are the French? 13 things you need to know

The French may live long lives, but they rely too much on healthcare instead of preventative health measures, a new study has found.

How healthy are the French? 13 things you need to know
Photo: AFP
The OECD has released a 200-page study into people's levels of health across Europe. 
Here are the things you need to know about France, the health of its people and some suggestions from the OECD about how the healthcare system can be improved.
The French live long lives
The average French person will live to 82.8 years old, higher than the EU average of 80.9 years. Men live to 79.5 and women to 86. 
“The French enjoy a relatively long life expectancy compared to other European countries, notably because of the good quality of care delivered by the health system,” said the OECD's head of health Francesca Colombo. 
But they could live for longer if they…
… Focused more on preventative health care
One of the main conclusions from the OECD report is that France doesn't concentrate enough on preventative health care, that's to say teaching the French to better look after their bodies.
“The French enjoy a relatively long life expectancy compared to other European countries, notably because of the good quality of care delivered by the health system, despite the budget constraints,” said 
The OECD's head of health Francesca Colombo said that France should place “a greater priority” on prevention and health promotion, however, rather than relying on the strong healthcare on offer. 
“Prevention in France remains a weak link,” she added, pointing out that France only spends 2 percent of its health budget on preventative measures compared to the EU average of 3 percent. 
The study noted that over 1.2 million people died in the EU in 2013 from deaths that could have been prevented had preventative health policies been more efficient.
One in five French people smoke daily
The OECD reports that 22.4 percent of French people smoke every day, which is almost double the rate in Sweden (12 percent) and higher than the 18 percent in the UK. The EU average was 21 percent. 
This figure, as worrying as it may sound, actually comes in lower than other studies in France that put the rate as high as 28 percent. 
French youths smoke more than their EU neighbours
One in five adolescents in France smokes at least once a week, while the figure is one in seven for the EU. 
France's smoking rate was deemed to be “alarming” by the OECD. 
How to fix the smoking issue?
France is well aware of its smoking problem, rolling out anti-smoking campaigns, banning cigarettes from public places, increasing the prices of cigarette packets, and introducing plain packaging. 
The OECD noted, however, that these efforts need to be “strengthened” if France wants to cut back further. 
The good news is that the figures for the number of smokers have dropped since the last similar study in 2000.
Higher than average drinking rates
The French love a drink, it seems, taking in 11.5 litres of pure alcohol each year, on average. 
The EU average was 10 litres, and just 9.4 litres in the UK.
Booze-loving France 'complicit' in alcohol deaths
How to cut back on the drinking?
The OECD said it was “essential” to cut back on advertising for drinks. It noted as well that France has a lower level of tax on alcohol than many EU countries.
“Effective prevention policies need to be relentlessly pursued to reduce risk factors, especially among teenagers before they pick up bad habits,” said the OECD's head of health Francesca Colombo. 
Better than average obesity rates
France squeezes under the EU average when it comes to obesity, but only just. A full 15.3 percent of the nation classifies as obese, compared to 15.9 percent
The definition of obesity is a Body Mass Index of 30 or over. 
Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
Unfortunately for France, this figure has swelled since 2000 when the figure was close to 10 percent. 
In the UK, 20.1 percent of the country were obese, whereas the Italians came in at just 10.3 percent.
French teens lag behind in exercise
In a study of 15-year-old French people, the OECD found that only 6 percent of girls performed an hour of physical activity each day. For the French boys, the figure was 14 percent.
Both paled in comparison to the EU average of 10 percent for the girls and 20 percent for the boys. 
Poor stats on flu and measles vaccinations
Some 48.5 percent of French people over the age of 65 are vaccinated against the flu, while the figure is 53.5 percent across the EU. 
And 11 percent of French children still aren't vaccinated against measles, compared to an EU average of 6 percent.  
Solution to the lack of jabs?
The OECD says that the lack of vaccinations comes from an unjustified distrust of doctors. 
It encouraged people to have their shots, noting that not doing so “increases the risks of hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly”.
Expensive healthcare
While French healthcare is generally considered to be among the best in the world, it's also expensive to run. 
In fact, 11 percent of GDP is spent on health, putting France at the third biggest spenders on health in Europe (after Germany and Sweden). 
Long average hospital stays
Those admitted to hospital in France stay for an average of 10.1 days, the second-highest figure for Europe (behind Finland). 
The OECD recommends that this could be cut down by a higher focus on having more outpatients, rather than admitting them for long periods of time. 
For example, just 23 percent of tonsillectomies in France are done in one day, compared to 85 percent of cases in Finland and 50 percent in the UK. 

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.