Dr. Pekka Jousilahti is a research professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland. In this interview, he speaks on the health and wellbeing exhibition billed for Lagos on November 3 and other issues. Excerpts:

WHAT will be your main message at the Health and Wellbeing event of Finland on November 3, in Lagos where you will make a presentation?

Pekka Jousilahti
Pekka Jousilahti

Prevention of non-communicable diseases is essential for health and wellbeing, and it can be done through lifestyle changes. For successful lifestyle changes, creation of health promoting environment is needed through inter-sectoral collaboration.

 What specific steps and policy did your government take to make Finland become “one of the healthiest, wealthiest, and most prosperous countries in the world”?

National health programems include reduction of smoking, and the target is that Finland would be a smoke-free country by 2040. Obesity and diabetes epidemics needs to tackled through improvement of diet and increase of physical activity. Social equality in health needs to be strengthened. Reduction of alcohol related problems is also an important issue.

How is health care organized in Finland – for instance what is the role of the government and health care insurance?

Most of the health care is provided by the public sector and financed through taxation.

Health care financing

The system is complemented by private sector and private insurance.

How important is diet in ensuring health and wellbeing? How about other lifestyle habits? How do you promote healthy eating and other habits in Finland?

Diet and healthy lifestyles (non-smoking, physical activity, no or modest alcohol consumption) are critical for health and wellbeing. Healthy eating and other healthy lifestyles cannot be promoted through individual health education only, but making the environment healthy. Multisectoral action is needed and is even more important than individual health education.

Cardiovascular problems are becoming a major cause of death in Nigeria. What do you think is the main reason for this?

Change and “westernization” of lifestyles, ie. smoking, unhealthy diet (salt, saturated fat, too much calories), physical inactivity, alcohol to mention some.

Many people in Nigeria live under poverty line and in poor hygiene conditions. Does this have relevance to heart disease, diabetes or cancer, for instance? How could health and wellbeing be achieved for populations of limited resources?

This is a complicated issue. However, in a low income context, prevention of NCDs is even more important. Treatment of NCDs is very expensive. The society and government have a big responsibility to protect poorer populations. NCD epidemics often start among higher social classes in a country but then soon also become prevalent among the poor.

 What is the relation between stress and non-communicable diseases? How can busy executives or others reduce stress?

The relationship between stress and developing NCDs is quite weak. As said, lifestyles i.e. smoking, healthy diet, physical activity and reduction of alcohol consumption are much more important. Physical activity is also a good way to reduce stress.

What are the main challenges and achievements in Finland in promoting health and wellbeing?

Challenges include aging population, securing equality in health issues, and in general in the society, international commercial pressure and marketing of unhealthy products (tobacco, alcohol, salty and fatty foods, etc.).  The main achievements in Finland have been: •maternal and child health care, maternal and child mortality in Finland is now one of the lowest in the world, •comprehensive and equal education system, •high immunization coverage since the 1950s •infectious disease control in 1940s and 1950s, •cardiovascular disease control through lifestyle changes since 1970s, one of the fastest reduction in CVD mortality in the world, •cancer screening and control, cervical cancer as an example, and •tobacco control, Finland was one of the first countries having a comprehensive tobacco control law in 1977

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