Why does France see more weight loss surgery than the UK and US?

France might not be the country in the world with the most acute obesity problem but the number of people undergoing weight loss surgery has boomed in recent years, new figures show.

Why does France see more weight loss surgery than the UK and US?

The number of people in France turning to surgical procedures to help reduce obesity has multiplied by 21 times over the last twenty years, new figures show.

This kind of operation, known in the medical world as “bariatric surgery”, which includes gastric bypass operations, effectively reduces the size of the stomach and can led to dramatic weight loss.

In 1997 only 2,800 operations of this kind were carried out compared to almost 60,000 in 2016 according to a report by the research and statistics agency Drees.

Part of that rise can simply be explained by the rise of obesity in France.

In 1997 some 8 percent of the population fell into the category of obese but by 2016 it was 15 percent.

However figures released last year suggested the growing weight problem in France was more worrying.

The figures revealed that over the age of 30, some 56.8 percent of French men are overweight or obese and 40.9 percent of French women of the same age also tip the scales as obese or overweight. 
However widening waistlines does not explain the boom of weight loss surgery in France given that the UK, where 27 percent of the population are considered obese and even the US, where obesity levels are at 38 percent, sees far fewer operations of this nature per head of population.
For example 8.4 French people out of 10,000 have undergone some kind of weight loss surgery compared to 1.2 out of 100,000 people in Britain and 6.1 out of 100,000 people in the US.
“Our health system is completely different from that of other countries. We do not limit the use of surgery,” Sébastien Czernichow, head of nutrition service at Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris told Le Figaro newspaper.
But in the UK for example a special commission carefully selects patients eligible for the surgery which is around 5,000 a year.
Another reason to explain the high numbers is that in France someone can qualify for the operation if their body mass index is over 35kg/M2 but in Denmark the limit is set at 50kg/M2 in other words a person who weighs over 145 kilos who has a height of 1.70 metres.
Another key factor is that the France's state health insurance the Securité Sociale covers much of the cost of the surgery, which is not the case in other countries.
However some surgeons in France have denounced the “culture of ease” which sees surgery offered as a first resort rather than concrete steps being taken to solve the root causes of rising obesity.
Former health minister Marisol Touraine lamented the lack of attention given to preventative health care in France compared to the UK, particularly when it came to smoking and alcohol.
France's health authority HAS officially advised that surgery only be undertaken when other treatments have failed such as nutrition advice, diets and psychotherapy.
Patients must be well informed in advance says HAS.

Member comments

  1. Ever since they banned smoking from restaurants, I expected more obesity.
    It used to be, would you sooner die of heart disease from being obese (USA) or cancer from smoking? (France)
    France is catching up?

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US giant Coca-Cola ‘paid €8m to influence French health researchers’

US beverage giant Coca-Cola paid more than €8 million in France to health professionals and researchers in a bid to influence research,according to an investigation by French newspaper Le Monde published on Thursday.

US giant Coca-Cola 'paid €8m to influence French health researchers'
Obesity is on the rise in France. Photo:AFP

The newspaper said the aim of the funds was to have research published that would divert attention away from the detrimental effect of sugary drinks on health.

Le Monde, in its front page story, said Coca-Cola paid more than “€8 million to experts, various medical organisations and also sporting and event organisations.”

It said in France, as elsewhere, the financing fell under communication or sponsorship and not as authentic scientific work.

Coca-Cola has been under a similar spotlight before, after the New York Times in 2015 reported that the company gave financial backing to scientists who argued that having more exercise is more important to avoiding obesity than cutting calories.

In the outcry that followed that report, the firm promised to improve transparency and publish on its site the names of experts and activities it finances in the United States.

It did the same for France in 2016 following pressure from the NGO Foodwatch and it is this data that has been intensely analysed by Le Monde.

Le Monde said that as in the US, the company's financing is aimed at “making people forget the risks that come with consuming its drinks”.

In a separate report, the Journal of Public Health Policy said Coca-Cola added multiple clauses to ensuring the research it funds produces the desired result.

These include preventing results that displease the company being published by reserving the right to break contracts without giving a reason.