Does age necessarily mean ill-health? – Not in France, it doesn’t

Obese people aren’t going to cost health services a fortune after all, because they die so much younger that, overall, they save the Government money.

That’s according to the US’s Public Library of Science.  

Oh lovely. What kind of warped thinking is that? Let’s allow people to get fat, then – save cash in the long run. 

However, leaving the obesity issue aside, which is well worth a full-scale argument, it’s that further little twist in thinking that I note – that it’s assumed that as you get older, you start getting sicker and frailer, as if this was something to be expected. That age inevitably means heart disease and hip replacements and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

British road sign We take so much of that thinking for granted in the UK that we hardly notice the assumption – just look at this British road sign for ‘old people crossing’ compared with the Namibian road sign below, depicting the same societal group.

But I don’t think the French feel that way. When my mother died last year at the age of 83, in the UK the perception was that she’d ‘had a good innings’, but the comment I most often heard from French people was: "Oh dear, that’s no age, is it?" Namibian road sign

Well no. Not here it isn’t. The French are the longest-lived people in Europe, and French women outlive their men by four years. The average age at death is 83, but the fact is, my village is full of hale and healthy people in their late 80s and 90s, living on their farms, breeding their own chickens – living full and independent lives. They do not, to me, look like people who are costing the health service much, and I know for a fact that when they get sick, they’re treated the same as younger people, which is not the case in the UK.

When I had physio after a car crash last year, one of my companions in the waiting room was a woman in her mid-80s who had undergone surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer. 65 sessions, she said, and now she was on a three-month physio course to help her mobility. Try getting any of that in the UK once you hit 70. She bumped into a friend who asked after a mutual third party. "She’s very well," my my companion. "She’s busy looking after her neighbour’s house at the moment…" That third party was 93 years of age. 

One reason for this state of health, I’m sure, is that the French eat so much better than Brits. One quick look round the supermarket tells you who’s British before they open their mouths – it’s the lard-arses waddling round the place, loading up their trolleys with booze and fast food. Next to the skinny French, we are a disgrace.

But another reason is that they’re simply better cared for. There is a huge emphasis on preventative medicine here. After the age of 40, women go for a mammography every year, and every citizen is entitled to a full health checkup every 5 years, to nip problems in the bud before they start. French women all have a gynecologist, separate from their GP, and annual cervical smears etc, are considered normal. One way or another, I see a medical professional for checkups three times a year, even when nothing’s wrong with me.

Perhaps it’s time that UK health service focused on preventing sickness rather than treating it. And on teaching patients the value of a balanced diet and a modicum of exercise. And perhaps it’s time the Government banned junk food advertising on television altogther, not just before the watershed. And required schools to reintroduce games as part of the curriculum. Annd home economics, so that people know a protein from a polysaccharide. 

Not that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that, of course.

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