PUBLIC HEALTH ORGANISATIONS in Finland have expressed their alarm with the deteriorating physical fitness of Finns.

The Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health (Soste), Finnish Olympic Committee and Finnish NCD Alliance on Thursday issued a joint press release demanding that the next government take action to address the issue.

“Better public health would increase employment, healthy life years and well-being, as well as reduce basic health care and hospital care costs. Investments are needed especially in preventative work and work that promotes public health,” outlined Vertti Kiukas, the general secretary at Soste.

The unusual plea was directed at the coalition formation negotiations that are set to begin today between the National Coalition, Finns Party, Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats.

Juha Viertola, the executive director of the Finnish Diabetes Association, told YLE on Sunday that Finns will no longer to be able to perform a number of jobs in the 2040s unless action is taken.

“You of course need physical capabilities to perform in the Defence Force, but there are concerns also about other occupations, such as rescue workers and first responders. This is an extremely serious question for the very functioning of our society,” he commented to the public broadcasting company.

The Finnish Diabetes Association is a member of the Finnish NCD Alliance.

A policy programme that increases physical activity among the public would generate significant cost savings for the next government, with estimates suggesting that lack of physical activity is presently costing society about 3.5 billion euros, according to YLE. Efforts to prevent diabetes alone have been estimated to generate one billion euros in savings.

Viertola said the organisations are calling on the government to introduce measures that promote healthier lifestyles, be it by adjusting tax rates on food and physical exercise or by steering municipal zoning in a way that promotes walking and cycling and produces school yards with good opportunities for physical activity.

“At the individual level, this could mean that workplaces hold walking meetings or something like that. The more seriously these things are taken by our state administration and whole society, the better they’ll become part of the everyday lives of individuals,” he argued.

He was reluctant to list measures that people could turn to to improve their physical fitness, stressing that society-wide reforms are necessary, but pointed to switching to a healthier diet, avoiding putting on extra weight, increasing physical activity, getting enough sleep and giving up smoking as measures at the request of YLE.

“The risks are largely the same for all public diseases,” he reminded. “Similarly, the factors that protect against public diseases are largely the same. Physical exercise reduces the risk of almost all public diseases.”

Also President Sauli Niinistö recently expressed his concern about the lack of physical activity at the opening ceremony of the parliamentary term, urging lawmakers to “get up, go out and exercise”.

“I didn’t bring it up only humorously. We’d have to take it seriously. Finns are in worse shape before, they weigh more than before. That’s linked strongly to not only physical, but also mental health,” he stated at a news conference held in conjunction with the ceremony.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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