Healthy Finland Survey: Weight gain among Finns already causing significant problems - the time for social measures is now

Publication date 4.12.2023 2.00 | Published in English on 19.12.2023 at 11.35
Press release

The BMI of approximately 1.2 million adults exceeds the limit for obesity (30 kg/m2). 30% of women and 27% of men are obese. Obesity is the most common among 40-64-year-olds, one in three of whom are obese. 

Abdominal obesity is even more common and affects nearly half of adults. A waist circumference over 90 centimetres for women and over 100 centimetres for men is held as the limit value for abdominal obesity.

Obesity and abdominal obesity have become more common among people of working age, i.e. those aged 20–64. Obesity has increased among working-age men by 3 percentage points and among women by 4 percentage points compared to 2017. The weight of a man of average height has increased by 1.6 kg and that of a woman by 1.8 kg.

The information comes from the THL's Healthy Finland Study in which 10,000 randomly selected people aged 20 and over were invited to participate in an extensive health examination. Of them, 5,800 (58%) took part in the health examination.

"Obesity is becoming more common and the problems caused by it are about to reach a critical point. Obesity causes an additional one billion euros in health care costs each year. We now need wide-ranging measures by society to stop the population’s weight gain. Such measures could include taxes and marketing restrictions based on how unhealthy food products are" says Docent and Principal Researcher Annamari Lundqvist

More than half a million Finns have diabetes

10% of women and 14% of men have diabetes. This means more than half a million Finns. One in five of them suffer from the disease without their knowledge. 

Obesity and especially abdominal obesity increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Based on the results of a risk test for diabetes, nearly 160,000 Finns will develop type 2 diabetes within the next 10 years if risk factors are not addressed. 

Hypertension and high cholesterol remain common despite increased use of medications 

The Healthy Finland Study also found that every other adult either uses medicine to treat high blood pressure or has hypertension. This means more than 2 million people.

As many as half of those taking medicine to treat their high blood pressure, have a blood pressure that is not at the target level. The situation has not improved since 2017. 

Blood pressure values are also no longer decreasing in the same manner they were in the early 2000s. 

"It is likely that people are at first prescribed too small a dose of blood pressure medication and too late," says Chief Physician Lara Lehtoranta. "The increase in obesity will cause an increase in blood pressure in the future. This is also apparent in cholesterol values.”

More than 3 million Finns suffer from fat metabolism disorders, which means that they have either increased blood cholesterol levels or take medication for high cholesterol. Approximately a quarter of cholesterol medication users still have high cholesterol values. 

The increase in blood triglyceride levels among working-age people is particularly concerning. 

"The concentration of triglyceride fats is increased by abdominal obesity, high alcohol consumption and a diet that contains a lot of hard fats and low-fibre carbohydrates," says Lehtoranta. 

People of pension age are doing better in terms of risk factors for public health disease. For example, their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels have decreased, which is at least partly due to the increased use of cholesterol medicines.

"In order for the future to look brighter overall, we need more societal measures, cooperation between different actors and sufficient resources in primary health care for the prevention and treatment of obesity and related diseases," says Annamari Lundqvist.

The results of the Healthy Finland survey will be presented at the National Public Health Day event on Tuesday 5 December. The theme of the day is the health, work ability and functional capacity of working-age people. The event can be followed online and in person at THL's premises in Helsinki.
Programme for the National Public Health Day event and signing up for the event (in Finnish)


Obesity, online report, Results of the Healthy Finland Survey (in Finnish) 

Diabetes, online report, Results of the Healthy Finland Survey (in Finnish)

Blood pressure, online report, Results of the Healthy Finland Survey (in Finnish)  

Cholesterol, online report, Results of the Healthy Finland Survey (in Finnish)

Healthy Finland online reports (in Finnish)

Further information:

Annamari Lundqvist
Principal Researcher
Tel. +358 29 524 7283
[email protected]

Lara Lehtoranta
Chief Physician
Tel. +358 29 524 8234
[email protected]

Healthy Finland Survey

Results of the Healthy Finland Survey  

Previously on this survey:

Healthy Finland survey: One in five young women have experienced discrimination in working life. THL press release, 23 November 2023  

Healthy Finland survey: Concern about climate change is common, and many make sustainable choices in their everyday lives. THL press release, 21 November 2023

Healthy Finland survey: More than half of people aged 65–74 feel fully able to work – even so, only a small proportion is in paid employment. THL press release, 7 November 2023

Healthy Finland Survey: Only less than half of adults engage in enough physical activity, staying up late and insufficient sleep have become more common. THL press release, 26 October 2023

Healthy Finland Survey: One in five adults have had to compromise on food, medicines or doctor’s appointments because of lack of money. THL press release, 5 October 2023

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