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Finns' risk of premature death declines but obesity remains a stumbling block

Finland could reach a key WHO target by 2025 if risk factors continue to decline.

Mies esittelee pyöreää vatsaansa.
Finnish waistlines have expanded steadily since the 1990s, the THL says. Image: AOP

Finns' risk of dying prematurely has decreased, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) says. However more people are becoming overweight or obese, which may slow the otherwise positive development.

On Friday the THL released a major survey of research and predictions on endemic diseases in Finland. It indicates that premature mortality based on the country's most common diseases has decreased across the board. This is mainly due to the reduction of key risk factors including smoking and high cholesterol.

Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases have dropped significantly in the country over the past quarter century, but the decline has slowed in recent years. The main factors that make early death more likely are unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and harmful alcohol consumption.

"Premature mortality due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases has declined because known risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol have reduced and the treatment of diseases has improved," THL Research Professor Pekka Jousilahti said a statement.

"On the other hand there has been unfavourable development in some areas including proliferating overweight and obesity," he added.

BMI soaring

The WHO classifies individuals as overweight and obese based on body mass index (BMI), which is determined by dividing a person's weight by the square of his or her height. It considers any adult with a BMI of 25 or more to be overweight, while those with 30 or more are obese.

In Finland BMI and waistlines expanded significantly for both men and women between 1992 and 2017. In 1992, just 16 percent of men and 15 percent of women were obese, but by 2017 this had risen to 23 percent for all.

Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases are responsible for more than half of all deaths in Finland, including among people of working age.

In 1970, the chance of dying of one these illnesses before the age of 70 was 40 percent for men and 20 percent for women. By 2017, the corresponding figures had dropped to 13 percent for men and seven percent for women.

If current trends continue, these numbers should fall to around 10 percent for men and just over five percent for women by 2025, the THL predicts. If so, Finland would reach the WHO's goal of cutting premature mortality from such diseases by one quarter between 2010 and 2025.

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