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Health in France : highlights

Life expectancy in France is among the highest in Europe, but it temporarily fell in 2020 because of deaths due to Covid-19. While the French health system provides good access to high-quality care, Covid-19 highlighted important structural weaknesses, including low investment in prevention, public health and health workforce.

The pandemic also stimulated many innovative practices that could be expanded to build a more resilient healthcare system.

France’s health status

Life expectancy in France in 2020 was almost two years higher than the EU average, but it fell by eight months because of deaths due to Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, gains in life expectancy had slowed considerably since 2010 compared with previous decades, partly due to increased mortality rates from influenza, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases among older people.

Risk factors

Behavioural risk factors for health are also major drivers of mortality in France. While tobacco consumption has fallen over the past two decades, almost one quarter of adults still smoked daily in 2019. Alcohol consumption has also decreased, but is still over 10% higher than the EU average. More than 90% of 15-year-olds reported not doing at least moderate physical activity each day in 2018 – the second highest share across the EU after Italy.

France’s health system

Spending on health per capita and as a share of GDP has been greater in France than the EU average for many years. Until 2020, spending on health was growing at around the same rate as the economy, but it increased more rapidly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, while GDP fell by 8%.


Mortality from preventable and treatable causes was lower in France than across the EU before the pandemic. However, France lagged behind some EU countries (Italy, Sweden, Spain) on preventable mortality, suggesting that more could be done to save lives by reducing risk factors for cancer and other leading causes of death.


Access to healthcare is generally good in France, but it was hampered by Covid-19 in 2020. One in six people reported forgone care during the first 12 months of the pandemic; this is less than the EU average of 21% but higher than in Germany (14%). Growing use of teleconsultations helped maintain access to care during the various waves of the pandemic.


France was among the EU countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in numbers of cases and deaths relative to its population size. The country accelerated its Covid-19 vaccination campaign in early 2021. As of end of August 2021, nearly 60% of the population was fully vaccinated (had received two doses or the equivalent).

OECD/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies (2021), France: Country Health Profile 2021, State of Health in the EU, OECD Publishing, Paris/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, Brussels