Finland boasts of being one of the most happy and technologically developed countries in the world. But so much development and happiness also may have its bitter side: the country's population is experiencing some of the typical problems of developed societies, such as excessive sedentary lifestyle, eating disorders and increasingly obese population, with the diseases that this entails.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) warned on Wednesday that obesity is becoming "increasingly prevalent in Finland, particularly among working age people". "Among over 30-year-old Finns, only one in four are of normal weight", the institute remarked.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set an international target for halting the rise in obesity rates and type 2 diabetes by 2025. According to THL's assessment, "it appears that Finland will not be able to reach the WHO target unless more efficient prevention measures are introduced".
The FinHealth 2017 study revealed that 72% of men and 63% of women over 30 years of age were at least overweight. 26% of men and 28% of women were obese. Nearly half of adults had abdominal obesity that is particularly harmful to health.
Obesity also common among children
THL draws attention to the fact that after a steadier period in the early 2000s, obesity has become more prevalent in recent years, particularly among working age population, or 30−64-year-old.
Obesity is also common among children in Finland. Of children aged 2 to 16 years, 27% of boys and 18% of girls were at least overweight in 2018. And 8% of boys and 4% of girls were obese. There have been no significant changes in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and young people in recent years.
“The prevention of obesity requires widespread, goal-oriented cooperation between different agents in society. No single measure can put an end to weight gain in the population on its own. There is a need for political decisions; for instance, taxation can be used to guide people towards a healthier diet. Other key measures include nutritional guidance, community planning that promotes physical activity, and health care measures, such as support and guidance related to weight management”, says Senior Researcher Annamari Lundqvist from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
Based on the records on the reimbursement for medicine expenses and data on blood glucose levels, also known as glycated haemoglobin, in the population, the increase in type 2 diabetes has slowed down in Finland in the previous 10 years. The overall blood glucose levels in the population have not increased, and the number of new type 2 diabetes diagnoses has decreased.
Nonetheless, the total number of people with type 2 diabetes is growing due to population ageing, earlier detection of diabetes, and the longer life spans of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as a result of improved treatment, THL says.
“Even though the development in type 2 diabetes appears to be on the right track, the prevalence of diabetes can take a turn for the worse if working age people continue to gain weight. Obese people have an eight times higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared to people of normal weight”, says Research Manager Jaana Lindström from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
Nine global targets for 2025
The World Health Organization (WHO) published its Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in 2013. The programme includes proposals on health policy and practical operations, which aim at reaching nine targets by 2025.
The targets are concerned with the following topics: morbidity caused by chronic diseases, alcohol, physical activity, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and obesity, functional ability and mental health. 25 indicators are used to track the accomplishment of the targets.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare reports about the opportunities and preconditions for reaching the targets in Finland, and will publish mid-term evaluations of how the targets have been reached in Finland in the autumn.