Finland Table of Contents
By the late 1980s, Finland's health problems were similar to those affecting other advanced countries. The most common causes of death in Finland were, first, cardiovascular diseases, followed by neoplasms (malignant and benign), accidents, poisonings, trauma from external causes (including suicides), and, lastly, diseases of the respiratory system (see table 12, Appendix A). The mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases was among the world's highest for both sexes, but it was especially high for middle-aged males. A national diet rich in fats was seen by medical specialists as a cause of the prevalence of coronary illnesses.
Despite its location on the periphery of Europe, Finland was also affected by the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), but not to a serious degree. As of late 1988, only 32 cases of AIDS had been reported, and 222 persons had been found to be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), although health officials believed there might be as many as 500 HIV-positive cases in all of Finland. Reasons for the slight presence of this health problem were the low frequency of drug use and prostitution, an aggressive and frank public education campaign, and the trust Finns felt for the national health system, which led them to adopt practices it recommended.
The most striking of all Finnish health problems was the high average mortality rate for males once they reached adulthood, which contributed to an average longevity in the mid-1980s of only 70.1 years compared with 73.6 years for Swedish males. In the second half of the 1970s, Finnish males over the age of twenty were one-third more likely to die by their sixty-fifth birthday than their Swedish neighbors. Cardiovascular diseases struck Finnish men twice as often as Swedish men. The three other chief causes of death were respiratory illnesses at twice the Swedish rate, lung cancer at three times the Swedish rate, and accidental or violent death at a frequency 50 percent higher than the Swedish figure. Health authorities have attributed the high mortality rates of the Finnish male to diet, excessive use of tobacco and alcohol, disruption of communities through migration, and a tradition of high-risk behavior that is particularly marked in working-class men in eastern Finland.
Mortality rates for Finnish women, with the exception of women over sixty-five, compared well with those of the other Nordic countries. A reason for this discrepancy between Finnish and other Nordic older women was the higher Finnish incidence of coronary problems, which occur later in women than in men. In the mid-1980s, Finnish women lived an average of 78.1 years, compared with 79.6 years for Swedish women. Except for coronary illnesses, of which Finnish women died 50 percent more often than their Swedish counterparts, the other causes of Finnish female mortality matched those of Sweden. In some cases, cancer and respiratory diseases for example, Finnish women had an even lower rate of incidence.
National efforts to improve living habits have included campaigns against smoking, restraints on the consumption of alcohol, and better health education in schools. One program that has been widely studied by international health officials was one implemented in the province of Pohjois-Karjala that aimed at reforming dietary habits in a region particularly hard hit by coronary illnesses. Finland was also a participant in the World Health Organization's program Health for All by the Year 2000 and was its European reporting nation.
Data as of December 1988