The change in the main cardiovascular risk factors in France was assessed using the MONICA population surveys conducted in the Urban Community of Lille, Bas-Rhin and Haute-Garonne. Trends in obesity, tobacco smoking, hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia and self-reported diabetes were established for the first (1985-1988) and the last (1995-1997) survey. The results indicate that the prevalence of overweight and obesity remained stable in both genders; tobacco smoking decreased in men but increased in women. Prevalence of hypertension decreased, and preventive measures improved in both genders. Prevalence of hypercholesterolaemia remained stable, and preventive measures improved only in men. Prevalence of self-reported diabetes increased solely in women, and preventive measures improved in both genders. However, in 1995-1997 still 40% of the treated hypertensive and 30% of the treated hypercholesterolaemic subjects were not adequately controlled. We conclude that prevalence and prevention of the main cardiovascular risk factors have evolved favourably in France, but the management of hypercholesterolaemia and hypertension can still be improved.