Finland curbs childhood obesity by integrating health in all policies

Finland curbs childhood obesity by integrating health in all policies

Six years ago, almost 1 in 5 five-year-olds in the Finnish city of Seinäjoki was overweight or obese. Not all schools and day care centres were providing nutritious food and sufficient physical activity. Since then, the municipality’s health department has worked with the childcare, education, nutrition, recreation and urban planning departments to ensure all day care centres and schools provide the same quality of services. As a result, the proportion of five-year-olds who are overweight or obese has been halved.

But, results did not happen overnight. It took time for all the different departments to understand how each influences health and the role each must play to promote it.

The urban planning department improved school playgrounds. Recreation implemented more physical activity in schools. Nutrition worked with day care centres to eliminate sugary snacks and with schools to serve healthier lunches. And the health department instituted comprehensive yearly health examinations in schools, which included parent education on healthy eating.

“I am very proud of this programme, but it’s not just the programme that’s achieving good results. It’s the families who have worked hard to change their lifestyles,” says Oili Ylihärsilä Director of Health Promotion, Seinäjoki Health Centre. “Parents are now wiser when it comes to good nutrition and exercise because of our efforts.

WHO, February 2015: