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Tuesday's papers: Finland vs Sweden's birth rates, MP wants sanitary products VAT cut, big study on Finnish health starts

They were difficult to find on Tuesday, but there were a few stories not related to Donald Trump in Finnish newspapers. One paper asked experts why birth rates in Finland trail those of Sweden's, a Left Alliance MP has made a proposal to reduce VAT on sanitary products, and the National Institute for Health and Welfare is gearing up for a broad study on the lifestyles and health of people in Finland.

Raskaana oleva nainen.
File photo. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Last week it was reported that Finland's death rates outstripped the country's births for the first time since 1940. At the very same time, a hop across the Baltic to the west, news outlets in Sweden reported that the country's population would hit the ten million mark last week - years before it was previously expected to.

The reason for Sweden's growth is attributed to high birth rates and increased immigration. Finland's population, which appears to be more or less stagnant, grew by just over one third of a percentage point in 2016 and stood at just over 5.5 million people.

An article in Tuesday's Helsingin Sanomat looked at the differences between the two Nordic countries.

In 2015, Swedish women of childbearing age on average gave birth to 1.85 children while for in women in Finland that figure was 1.65, the paper writes.

At first glance, the paper writes, one might attribute the big difference to immigration, but it's more complicated than that.

Research Professor Anna Rotkirch said that with each generation, population numbers in general tend to mirror previous generations.

Another reason for the difference in birth rates is that Swedish families more often tend to have two children, while in Finland there are more extremes in either direction - couples who are childless and those who have several children. And the differences between the countries are growing, the paper writes.

While Sweden two-child families appear to be steadily growing, in Finland families with three or more children is on the decline and the number of childless couples is increasing.

A major reason for the lack of births is people having a difficult time finding a partner, the paper writes.

University of Stockholm's professor of demography Gunnar Andersson says that couples appear to get together more easily in Sweden.

"Finland is more old-fashioned in terms of gender roles," Andersson says, explaining that it is most difficult for highly educated women and men with low education to find themselves mates.

Rotkirch also attributes Finland's lower birth rates to higher alcohol consumption compared to Sweden, as well.

Broad study on health in Finland starts

The National Institute for Health and Welfare has embarked on a new, broad study which will monitor the lifestyle choices, health risks and functional abilities of some 10,000 randomly selected people in Finland, according to the paper Keskisuomalainen.

Over the course of four months starting in February, the FinTerveys 2017 study (roughly translated to FinHealth 2017) will visit some 50 communities across Finland to study people's health, according to the paper.

Katja Borodulin, an organiser of the study, said that the people who are being studied will represent a miniature version of the entire country.

"That's why each of the study's participants are equally important - including the  old and young, and the ill and healthy," Borodulin said.

Some participants of the study will take part in a nutrition interview or have their physical activity and sleep monitored, as well.

MP aims for VAT reduction of sanitary products

Finland's biggest Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet features a brief about Left Alliance opposition MP Hanna Sarkkinen's new proposal to lower the sales tax (VAT) on personal hygiene products like tampons and incontinence protection.

Sarkkinen says that the tax on products chiefly used by women puts a burden on some forced to pay - simply for being female.

"A woman can spend thousands of euros for menstruation products during her lifetime. It would be fair as well as possible to reduce VAT on these essential products. In doing that we could lighten the burden of special fees that women pay because of their gender," Sarkkinen said in a press release.

Currently, the paper writes,  personal hygiene products are taxed at regular VAT rates of 24 percent in Finland.

Sarkkinen suggests to lower the VAT to ten percent. She says that many EU countries already classify personal hygiene products as health products with a reduced VAT.

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