7.1 General context
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Reducing health inequalities is one of the cornerstones of health promotion in Finland, and this is also specified in the objectives of the Health Care Act.
The majority of young people in Finland are doing well, although there is a minority whose wellbeing is significantly worse than their peers. Health inequalities are strongly related to this. According to the Youth Barometer 2020, one fifth of young people aged 15–29 have some kind of chronic disease or other health related problem. Prevalence is more common in girls (25 %) than boys (18 %), and the uneducated and unemployed young people have more health problems than the average. According to the ‘Child’s Time: Towards a National Strategy for Children 2040‘, one of the reasons to start preparations for a national strategy for children are the existing inequalities among children and young people. Although many of them are doing better than ever before, problems are accumulate. (For more information, see: ‘Child’s Time: Towards a National Strategy for Children 2040‘ and ‘Enabling growth, learning and inclusion for all‘ ).
The mental health challenges and loneliness experienced by children and young people have become more common since 2019, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic seems to have had a particularly strong impact on the well-being of girls and young women. According to the School Health Promotion study of the Institute for Health and Welfare, moderate or severe anxiety was experienced by approximately 30 % of girls in 2021, while in 2019 the corresponding proportion was 20 %. 53 % of 8th and 9th grade girls and 17 % of boys have been worried about their mood during the past year. Also the experienced stress during pandemic was found to vary according to gender and age, so it was more common among women and those in their twenties. The impacts on young people’s mental well-being caused by the pandemic have been widely acknowledged in Finnish society and it has been one of the key themes in various recent studies and research.
The National Birth Cohort 1987 and 1997 -studies (in Finnish) operated by the Institute for Health and Welfare are multidisciplinary longitudinal studies using national register data, the subjects of which are all children born in Finland in 1987 and 1997, as well as their biological parents (228,009 persons). Among those born in 1997, more 12–18-year-olds have been given a psychiatric or neurodevelopmental diagnosis than those born in 1987. The proportion of diagnosed girls is higher than that of boys. The proportion of psychiatric medication users has also increased. The increase of mental health disorders is at least partly explained by better identification of disorders, expanded examinations of school healthcare and the fact that seeking help is not perceived as stigmatising as before.
According to the Finnish Olympic Committee, currently 2/3 of Finnish children do not exercise enough for their health and development, and according to estimates, approximately 70 % of children are out of reach of sports club activities organised during the school day. The leisure and sports activities of children and young people are supported by various projects (Terve koululainen, Unelmista totta, #Nuorellesiivet, in Finnish), and in addition, the legislation aims to strengthen the implementation of The Finnish Model of Leisure Activities in municipalities. For more information, see Youth Wiki/Finland: 7.3 Sport, youth fitness and physical activity.
One in every four boys and almost one in every five girls in Finland is overweight or obese, according to the new statistics published by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). More boys than girls were recorded as overweight or obese across all age groups. Being overweight or obese was more prevalent in school-age children than in pre-schoolers. Across the age ranges, 24 % of pre-school age boys, 28 % of primary school age boys, and 29 % of upper secondary school age boys were at least overweight. Similarly, 15 % of pre-school age girls, 18 % of primary school age girls, and 20 % of upper secondary school age girls were at least overweight. Several factors, such as an abundance of highly calorific foods and drinks and decreased activity levels, have been found to contribute to overweight in children, both at the individual and societal levels. For more information, see the press release of THL 10.9.2020.
Drinking and regular smoking among young people has decreased quite rapidly in Finland in recent years. According to the School Health Promotion study (2021), young students in basic education, basic upper secondary education and initiative vocational studies are more often completely sober (from 60,7 % to 65,4 %), or have not tried illegal drugs as often as in 2019 (from 8,9 % to 8,1 %). Nevertheless, the overall use of illegal drugs has increased in Finland especially among young people, according to Huumetilanne Suomessa 2020 (Drug situation in Finland 2020, in Finnish) by the Institute for Health and Welfare, and to the press release of Finnish Police (8.3.2021). According to the 2019 ESPAD (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) survey, 13 % of 15–16-year-old boys and 9 % of girls had at some point in their lives tried cannabis, which is the most popular illegal drug in Finland. Trying and using drugs among university students became more common (from 20 % to 24 %) between 2000 and 2008, but since then it has returned to its previous level.
Based on the information offered by Statistics Finland, suicide is one of the main causes of death among young people. Young people’s suicide mortality is relatively high by European standards. In 2020, 85 young people between the age of 15 and 25 committed suicide, which was relatively less than in 2019 (109).
There are no specific concepts relating to well-being and health that would differ from those in the common European discussion.