A recent study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), known as the "Terve Suomi" study, has revealed alarming trends in the health of the Finnish population. The research highlights a growing problem of obesity and its associated health risks, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive societal interventions.
The study, which invited 10,000 randomly selected adults aged 20 and above for extensive health check-ups, found that approximately 1.2 million adults in Finland have a body mass index (BMI) above the obesity threshold (30 kg/m^2).
Obesity affects 30% of women and 27% of men in the country. It is most prevalent among individuals aged 40 to 64, with one in three in this age group being obese.
Even more concerning is the prevalence of abdominal obesity, which affects nearly one in two adults. Abdominal obesity is defined as a waist circumference exceeding 90 centimeters for women and 100 centimeters for men.
The study also revealed that obesity, particularly among working-age adults (aged 20-64), has been on the rise. In comparison to 2017, obesity rates have increased by 3 percentage points among men and 4 percentage points among women. On average, men's weight has increased by 1.6 kg, while women's weight has risen by 1.8 kg during this period.
"Lihavuus yleistyy ja sen aiheuttamat ongelmat ovat räjähtämässä käsiin. Lihavuus aiheuttaa vuosittain miljardin lisäkustannukset terveydenhuollolle. Viimeistään nyt tarvitaan yhteiskunnan laaja-alaisia toimia väestön lihomisen pysäyttämiseksi. Tällaisia keinoja voisivat olla muun muassa elintarvikkeiden epäterveellisyyteen perustuvat verot ja markkinointirajoitukset," warns Dr. Annamari Lundqvist, the lead researcher of the study.
The implications of rising obesity rates are not limited to the individual level but extend to the burden on the healthcare system. Obesity-related health issues result in significant additional costs for healthcare annually.
Diabetes, a condition often associated with obesity, affects more than half a million Finns. Among women, 10% have diabetes, while among men, the prevalence is 14%. Alarmingly, one-fifth of individuals with diabetes are unaware of their condition.
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is significantly increased in individuals who are obese or have abdominal obesity. Without intervention, the study predicts that nearly 160,000 Finns will develop type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years based on risk factors.
Additionally, the study highlights the persistence of high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels among the population. Half of adults either have hypertension or are on blood pressure medication, equating to over 2 million individuals. Worryingly, half of those on medication do not achieve target blood pressure levels. This situation has not improved since 2017.
Dr. Lara Lehtoranta, a senior physician, suggests that medication for hypertension may often start with too low a dose and too late. Furthermore, the rise in obesity is expected to contribute to elevated blood pressure levels in the future, and this is also evident in cholesterol levels.
Over 3 million Finns have disturbances in their lipid metabolism, characterized by high cholesterol levels or cholesterol medication use. Approximately a quarter of those on cholesterol medication still have elevated cholesterol levels.
Of particular concern is the increase in blood triglyceride levels among working-age adults, a phenomenon attributed to abdominal obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and diets rich in saturated fats and low in fiber.
For older adults, the situation is somewhat better concerning risk factors for chronic diseases. Notably, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels have declined, partly due to increased use of cholesterol-lowering medications.
"To ensure a brighter future overall, we need more societal actions, collaboration among various stakeholders, and sufficient resources in primary healthcare for the prevention and treatment of obesity and its associated health conditions," emphasizes Dr. Annamari Lundqvist.
The findings of the Terve Suomi study will be presented on Public Health Day on December 5th, focusing on the health and functional capacity of working-age adults. The event can be followed online or in person at the THL's premises in Helsinki.