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Less educated, low-income earners have shorter life expectancy

Obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are most common risk factors in less-educated men.

Verenpaineen mittausta
Hypertension is a risk factor for chronic and fatal diseases. Image: Karoliina Simoinen / Yle

The life expectancy of less-educated and low-income earners in Finland is clearly shorter than that of highly educated and high-income earners, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said on Monday.

According to THL, socioeconomic inequality in the population is reflected in risk factors for chronic diseases — obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are most common in less-educated men.

Risk factors tend to add up in the same individuals because they are often affected by the same lifestyles. The more risk factors a person has, the higher the probability of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, for instance.

These risk factors, in turn, can make this segment of the population more vulnerable to other diseases such as Covid-19 caused by the coronavirus, according to the health agency.

High cholesterol — most common risk factor

The most common individual risk factor in both men and women was elevated cholesterol, THL said. High cholesterol and high blood pressure were the most common among the combined risk factors in men and women — obesity was third-most prevalent in this category.

THL observed that less educated women also had more risk factors than those who completed secondary or higher education levels, but the differences in risk factors are not as great as between highly- and less-educated men.

The agency said health promotion efforts should particularly target population groups whose risk factors are above average. At the same time, the institute pointed out that reducing health inequalities has proven to be a difficult task

"At the individual level, making lifestyle changes requires motivation and is often best done when one's own life situation is favourable," specialist researcher Laura Paalanen said in the THL release.

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