How bad habits are threatening the health of the French nation

A global healthcare study has given France's health system a good report, but warned that too many French people are still smoking and drinking too much.

How bad habits are threatening the health of the French nation
People in France have a long life expectancy, despite some bad habits. Photo: AFP

The OECD's Health at a Glance 2019 report ranks France highly for aspects such as the quality, availability and cost of healthcare, but warns about bad habits that threaten the nation's health.

Life expectancy for people in France remains high at 82.4, ninth in the list of developed countries and above the OECD average of 80.7 but behind Japan at 84.2.

The French healthcare system came out well both in general – for accessibility – and in some specific categories like survival rates after a stroke or heart attack, in which category came sixth.

In total French people pay for just two percent of their healthcare costs, while the state or health insurers pick up the rest.

READ ALSO How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

In terms of accessibility, the report found that 89 percent of the population had easy access to a doctor, while screening services such as the cervical caner screening programme for women were also praised.

France was also one of the countries that spent the highest amounts on healthcare – 11 percent of gross domestic product or €4,500 per person.

Within the healthcare system, the only black mark for France was its level of antibiotic use – 23 daily doses per 1,000 inhabitants, while the OECD average is 18. This figure is not improving, despite public health campaigns urging people to stop asking their doctors for antibiotic for minor ailments.

READ ALSO Why do the French love taking medicine so much?

Overall, the report found that 8.3 percent of the population are in poor health, slightly better than the OECD average of 8.5 percent.

However where France scored poorly was in the bad habits of its population.

The French drink an average of 11.7 litres of alcohol per year, significantly higher than the OECD average of 8.9 litres and the third worst out of the 45 countries.

Rates of alcoholism were also 30 percent higher than the OECD average.

Smoking rates were also high, with one in four French adults smoking, against an OECD average of 18 percent.

France has the highest rate of smoking in western Europe and only five countries – Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Greece and Indonesia – have more smokers.

READ ALSO The French and smoking – is France really Europe's chimney?

This stores up problems for the future as a population of smokers and heavy drinks ages, and the report warns that by 2030 France will have to devote 13 percent of its GDP to healthcare, which may not be affordable.

READ ALSO People in France live longer and healthier lives, study shows


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.