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EACEA National Policies Platform: Youthwiki
Finland

Finland

7. Health and Well-Being

7.4 Healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition

On this page
  1. National strategy(ies)
  2. Encouraging healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition for young people
  3. Health education and healthy lifestyles education in schools
  4. Peer-to-peer education approaches
  5. Collaboration and partnerships
  6. Raising awareness on healthy lifestyles and on factors affecting the health and well-being of young people

National strategy(ies)

Legislation 

As mentioned above, the legal framework of health policy is set by the Constitution of Finland, the Sports Act, the Local Government Act, the Youth Act, the Health Care Act and relevant decrees issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (for more information, see: Youth Wiki/Finland: 7.2 Administration and governance). This legislation  promotes healthy lifestyles as well. For example, the Youth Act explicitly mentions that the implementation must be based on healthy lifestyles.

Sexual health & fighting risky behaviour

The Action Plan on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2014–2020 is based on the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health's Action Plan on the promotion of sexual and reproductive health 2007–2011. On commission by the Ministry, the National Institute for Welfare and Health updated the action plan in collaboration with experts and organisations. The action plan on sexual and reproductive health aims to improve the population's sexual and reproductive health and, thereby, reduce health and social inequalities. According to the Action Plan, sexual and reproductive health is promoted by providing more information, by enhancing co-operation, and by developing related services. Priority action areas in the action plan include sex education, good care at birth, multiculturalism, as well as male sexual and reproductive health.

The Action Plan follows the standards set by the WHO. Upper secondary vocational education and training and general upper secondary school must provide services, which promote sexual health (e.g. sexual and relationships guidance, including supporting sexual orientation and preventing infertility, sexual violence and venereal diseases). If a young person needs further guidance, which a school cannot offer, a school is responsible to direct him or her to further treatment.

For more information, see:

Action plan - Promotion of sexual and reproductive health can reduce health and social inequalities  

Encouraging healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition for young people

The promotion of healthy eating habits is part of Finnish education system. According to the Basic Education Act, a pupil who is attending basic education shall be provided with a balanced and appropriately organised and supervised meal on every school day. Nowadays, approximately 900 000 pupils and students enjoy a free meal in school. A provided meal must support the objectives of health education. Free school catering has been  practised since 1948 and it promotes healthy eating habits, well-being, and Finnish food culture. Also, pupils have the right to participate in planning school catering, which supports their participation and community spirit.

Curriculums at a local level, which are based on the national curriculum, usually include a plan of school catering as part of student welfare and education. Special diets and allergies are taken into account. In some places the minimum timeframe for lunch is set, in order to ensure that pupils do not have to eat in a rush.

Substance abuse prevention  

The Action Plan on Alcohol, Tobacco, Drugs and Gambling supports the statutory substance abuse prevention work done in municipalities and regions. On the national level, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for coordinating the organisation of substance abuse prevention as well as other aspects of health policy. In practice, substance abuse prevention is developed and coordinated by the National Institute for Health and Welfare on the national level and by the Regional State Administrative Agencies on the regional level, together with other authorities. According to Maria Normann, Heidi Odell, Mari Tapio and Elsi Vuohelainen, the implementation of youth substance use prevention can be divided into three modes of operations:

1) social strengthening

2) universal prevention

3) risk prevention

Social strengthening and universal prevention concern all young people. Risk prevention focuses on those young people who have a higher risk for substance use and/or who already have a substance-related problem in their lives. In an ideal situation, risk prevention is only a small part of substance abuse prevention. Generally, substance abuse prevention is based on promoting a substance-free way of life. In this way, it can be said that all people who work with young people are doing substance abuse prevention. (See: Youth Substance Use Prevention – let’s do this together!)

In 2018, a consortium which consists of the Finnish Mental Health association, EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention and Youth Mental Health Association YEESI was appointed as one of the youth work centres of expertise. It promotes mental health and substance abuse prevention by educating youth workers and professionals. Its goal is to strengthen young people’s participation in the promotion of well-being as well.

For more information, visit:

Youth Substance Use Prevention – let’s do this together!

And yet it works! Sober notes on public substance education

Views on substance use prevention in Finland   

Youth substance use prevention - let's do this together 

Alcohol, tobacco and addictions - substance abuse prevention  

Ehkäisevän päihdetyön toimintaohjelma (In Finnish)

Laki ehkäisevän päihdetyön järjestämisestä (In Finnish)

Health education and healthy lifestyles education in schools

Sports and health education both are mandatory subjects in educational institutions. As mentioned above, in vocational upper secondary education sports and health education are combined into one study module, which supports the maintaining of working capability as well (for more information, visit: Youth Wiki/Finland: 7.3 Sport, youth fitness and physical activity). Topics of health education include healthy eating and nutrition and preventing risky behaviour. Sex education is a mandatory part of health education in single-structure basic education, upper secondary education and vocational upper secondary education. According to the Family Federation of Finland, this has been the most effective way to carry out sex education in schools. Health education is a standalone academic subject, which is taught in all comprehensive schools and it must have a dedicated teaching staff. This ensures that teachers effectively self-select to study this subject, and they are interested and able to teach it (UNESCO - Comprehensive Sexuality Education: The Challenges and Opportunities of Scaling-up Sex education).  

Sex education includes emotional and biological aspects of sexuality. The starting point is to offer information for young people in order to support their sexual identity and to help them to see sexuality as a source of resources, which brings joy and happiness to their life. Relationships, communication, safe sex, availability of sexual health services, sexuality in media, sexual violence, venereal diseases, and anatomy are mandatory themes of sex education.

Peer-to-peer education approaches

Single-structure basic education supports peer-to-peer learning by supporting working as a group and/or with one’s peers. According to the national curriculum, one of the goals of health education is to guide pupils to think about individuality, communality and equality from the perspective of health and to support pupils’ ability  to make responsible choices. 

Also, studying in upper secondary school must support communality, participation and well-being by strengthening communication and cooperation skills. Teamwork and peer learning are encouraged. The goal is to offer possibilities to invent solutions together, to share knowledge and know-how and to support peer review. 

Maintaining working capability, sports and health education” study module in vocational upper secondary education and training may include team sport and peer review and supports communality as well. Tutoring is an important part of vocational upper secondary education and training as well as upper secondary education. Tutoring supports peer-to-peer approaches and participatory activities as well as strengthens communality among students in educational institutions. These are part of educational institutions’ student welfare.

Collaboration and partnerships

Collaboration between schools and youth work has a long tradition in Finland. However, planning and actions have not always been based on permanent structures. In 2000s, formal education providers and youth workers have started to identify mutual goals and a more structured dialogue with each other (Kiilakoski 2016; Kolehmainen & Lahtinen 2014). 

Legally, the Youth Act obliges outreach youth work and education providers to collaborate in certain situations, which may threaten a young person’s health and well-being, such as:

• An education provider must deliver information about a school-leaver who has not sought or gained entry to post-compulsory education; 

• An education provider must deliver information about a person under 25 years of age who discontinues their studies in vocational or general upper secondary education;

• The Defence Forces and the Non-military Service Training Centre must deliver information about a person under 25 years of age who has exemption from military or non-military service owing to non-fitness for service or who discontinues the service.

An education or training provider may decline to disclose information on a young person if they judge, based on the information available and in consideration of the young person's situation and need for support as a whole, that the young person is not in need of services of outreach youth work.

The Student Welfare Act, the Basic Education Act and the Governmental Decree on Maternity and child health clinic services, school and student health-care, preventive oral health care for children and young contain provisions on collaboration between social and health authorities and education providers. According to legislation, a young person is entitled to have school health-care, dental care, contraception and other sexual health counselling for young people. Also, an examination by a child or youth psychiatrist to determine their mental health status must be available if necessary. The national core curriculum requires collaboration as well: education providers draw up local curriculums in cooperation with the local executory social and health authorities. The education provider shall also determine the organisation of home school cooperation and of pupil welfare laid down in the core curriculum.

Raising awareness on healthy lifestyles and on factors affecting the health and well-being of young people

Since physical activity is strongly connected to the healthy lifestyles and well-being of young people, On the Move – national strategy for physical activity promoting health and well-being 2020 and Finnish Schools on the Move should be taken into account as youth-targeted information campaigns as well as concrete measures to increase young people’s physical activity. For more information, visit: Youth Wiki/Finland: 7.3 Sport, youth fitness and physical activity

In addition, there are information campaigns, which focus on different themes in the area of healthy lifestyles. For example, the Family Federation of Finland, the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health organise the campaign ("Kumita!"), which promotes safe sex practices and offers condoms free-of-charge to young people, and several non-governmental organisations organise the campaign ("Selvin päin kesään"), which aims at increasing information about drinking among young people. The goal is to encourage young people to party without alcohol. 

Besides youth-targeted information campaigns, information providers have been established and counselling has been made available to young people. Schools are one of the most important places to disseminate information and raise awareness about healthy lifestyles among young people (e.g. health education, physical examinations, school health-care). For more information, visit: Youth Wiki/Finland: 7.3 Sport, youth fitness and physical activity. Secondly, public health-care may offer counselling specifically tailored to young people. Thirdly, NGOs may offer health services to young people as well, but according to legislation, local authorities are primarily responsible for arranging such services. For more information, visit: Youth Wiki/Finland: 4.6 Access to Quality Services.