Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.
Skip to main content
European Commission logo


EACEA National Policies Platform


7. Health and Well-Being

7.4 Healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition

Last update: 10 January 2024
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)

Under construction

Sexual health & fighting risky behaviour

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guides and manages the promotion of sexual health nationwide. The guidelines reported in The Action Plan on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2014–2020  (available in Finnish) edited by Reija Klemetti & Eija Raussi-Lehto and published by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, are still in use since 2023. The action plan 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, like the earlier version of the plan from the years 20072011. All educational institutions from early childhood to upper secondary vocational education and training and general upper secondary school should provide sexual health education and services, which promote sexual health. If a young person needs further guidance, which for example a school cannot offer, a school is responsible for directing them to further consultation. One of the guidelines given in the action plan is that, when planning an educational campaign for a segment of the population, it should be systematically planned and, when possible, in co-operation with different actors in the field and with the target group, such as young people. 

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare implements School Health Promotion Study every other year. The study is carried out in educational institutions as an anonymous, independently completed online survey, which is filled out by the pupils and students in classes or groups during the school day. The national study includes questions about sexual health practices, such as use of condoms and need for extra information about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and puberty, for students in 8th and 9th grades, in general upper secondary schools and in vocational studies. In the article on-line called “Sexual harassment and violence threatens the feelings of engagement of young people” (in Finnish), published on the webpages of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare on the 28thof February 2022, written by the researcher Lotta Virrankari, it is outlined that while the young people’s need for information on their sexual health practices has not changed significantly from earlier years, sexual harassment, experienced by girls especially, has increased significantly in recent years. 

As mentioned in the same article, young people, who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence, are clearly less inclined towards social inclusion than other young people. The amount of social inclusion was measured with the “Experiences of Social Inclusion Scale” (in Finnish) which has been developed by the institute. Indicator includes several aspects of social inclusion, such as whether the respondents feel they have the power to make an impact, whether they count their actions as being meaningful, and whether they feel a sense of belonging in communities they consider to be important. Sexual harassment and sexual violence weaken a young person's well-being in many ways, and the recently observed connections to lower levels of social inclusion deepen the understanding of the harmful effects. 

From the beginning of the year 2023, a reform of the legislation on sexual offences in the Criminal Code of Finland entered into force. As mentioned on the webpages of the Ministry of Justice, in the press release 21st of December 2022, “The reform aims to strengthen everyone’s right to sexual self-determination and the protection of personal integrity.“ Information about the launch of a new website, is also provided. According to the press release: “The website provides information on the key contents of the amended legislation on sexual offences and answers to practical questions from the perspective of citizens. The focus is on the new definition of rape. In addition, questions related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, sending of sexual images and sexual offences against children are briefly discussed.” 

Family Federation of Finland provides a chat service for young people aged 13–19, who want to talk anonymously about their sexuality, sexual activity and well-being with professionals. They also have a Q&A-platform, where young people are able to ask about puberty, close relationships and sexual well-being and other thought-provoking themes with sexual counselors and therapists. The Family Federation of Finland has additionally collected a long list of articles, online lectures, video materials and podcasts about sex-related themes for young people on their website. One important aspect of the functions of the Family Federation of Finland are the positions it offers to young people to act as volunteers (see more below under “Peer-to-peer education approaches.”) One of the main funders for Family Federation of Finland is the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Substance abuse prevention

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for the planning, guidance and legislation regarding alcohol, tobacco and nicotine product and drug policies. The dedicated webpage of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Affairs called “Prevention of alcohol and drug related harm and addictions”, gives information about “The Finnish Abuse and Addition Strategy – common guidelines for 2030” (published 2021), offers a background report of the strategy (2021), and after the mid-term evaluation in 2021, it has renewed “Action Plan on Alcohol, Tobacco, Drugs and Gambling” (The Action plan period covers 2015-2025). The aim of the strategy is to prevent and reduce the risks, harms and problems caused by the use of alcohol, tobacco and nicotine products as well as drug use and gambling in all age groups. As mentioned on the webpage, the strategy has its basis in the Act on Organising Substance Abuse Prevention (523/2015) which governs the work to prevent and reduce alcohol and drug related harm. The strategy contains following five priorities: 

  1. strengthening the realisation of the rights of people suffering from substance abuse or experiencing addiction-related harm who are covered by substance abuse services and the rights of those close to them;
  2. strengthening cooperation, information flow, expertise and the knowledge base;
  3. intensifying alcohol, tobacco and nicotine, drug and gambling policy measures;
  4. ensuring the quality, accessibility and availability of both preventive work and substance abuse and addiction services;
  5. ensuring cooperation and expertise at the government level to address substance abuse and addictions.”

EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention has worked since 2020 as a member of three youth work centres of expertise: The Centre of Expertise for Municipal Youth Work Kanuuna (Cannon), the Centre of expertise Nuoska - Youth work at schools and educational institutions, and Into  – Association for Outreach Youth Work and Workshop Activities. The youth work centres of expertise are named by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Their role is to develop the competence of youth workers and other professionals working with young people in preventive  substance abuse work by collaborating with their partner organisations on training courses, networks and operating models. 

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, community spirit and may improve the quality of meals which are offered.

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. In Helsinki and Vantaa, public schools have had a weekly vegetarian food day for over ten years, by decree of the board of education. Based on a council initiative made in 2018 (in Finnish), Helsinki decided to halve consumption of meat and dairy products by 2025.

The National Core Curriculum for Basic Education also includes content about healthy life habits and nutrition. In grades 7 to 9, health education is a mandatory subject for all the students.

Unfortunately, the main result of the statistical report called ´Daily life of young people – School Health Promotion study 2023´ produced by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare by the researchers Jenni Helenius and Hanne Kivimäki, was that “many young people do not eat breakfast or school lunch on school days.” The School Health Promotion study is carried out in educational institutions as an anonymous, independently completed online survey, which is filled out by the pupils and students in classes or groups during the school day. Based on the study, about one third of young people reported that they do not eat school lunch every day (coverage of the study covered about 20% of vocational upper secondary educational institutions and 70% of the schools of basic education). One possible reason for avoiding the school lunch was found out in the deliberative discussions between young people and decision-makers during the winter 2022-2023 in three municipalities: the school meals are poor quality due to competitive tendering, the participation possibilities to take part in planning the catering are rare, and the feedback channels for young people are not trustworthy enough. The school meals were driven into the discussion as an urgent theme by the young people during the discussions related to the evaluation of the democracy and human rights education (see more in Gretschel, Rautiainen and Vanhanen-Nuutinen 2023, available in Finnish). Both School Health Promotion study and the one related to democracy education were funded by the state, The School Health Promotion study on a permanent basis.

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.

Current sex education in schools has been also critisized fo having a too heteronormative approach and not giving enough information about the diversity of genders and sexual orientations. It has been also argued that sex education starts in schools too late and should be taught ealier, in an age appropriate manner. According to the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme 2020-2023 of the Ministry of Education and Culture, “equality and sex education must be stepped up, ensuring that all young people recognise their and other people’s right to physical integrity”. 

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. In recent years, the youth work done by municipalities in schools and educational institutions has increased significantly (Kiilakoski 2014a, 8–14; Kalliomaa & Ahonen-Walker 2019, 22–23). According to the Finnish Youth Research Network, school youth work is nowadays perceived even more compellingly as a means to support the well-being of young people both at the individual level and at the group level. Strengthening multi-professional cooperation and especially youth work in basic education and in vocational training is one of the sub-goals of the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme 2020–2023 for the more general goal of a smooth everyday life for young people and towards the reduction of marginalisation.  

The Centre of Expertise Nuoska, which is coordinated by South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences’ Youth Research and Development Centre Juvenia, focuses on developing youth work models at schools and educational institutes regionally and nationwide. Their main tasks are:  

  1. Gather, publicise and disseminate good practices in cooperation with youth and education departments, which will make youth work in schools and educational institutions more common.  
  2. Model and develop forms and aspects of youth work in schools and educational  institutions, so that youth work is high-quality and evaluation-based.  
  3. Strengthen the bilingualism of centres of expertise activities by coordinating with the Swedish-language activities in all six centres of expertise.  

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.   

The upcoming health and social services reform requires strong cooperation between different  authorities. Starting from January 2023, the Health and Social Services counties must ensure the coordination of healthcare and social welfare services in cooperation with other well-being services counties, and coordinate their healthcare and social welfare services with municipal and central government services. According to the law, student support services will still be organised as local services, also in remote areas and small educational institutions.  

According to the reform plan (in Finnish), “it is the responsibility of the education organiser to provide functional school health care for pupils and students. This requires that the training provider and the welfare area agree on common operating methods. Cooperation between education organisers has been found to be increasing in areas where student support services have been under the responsibility of municipal associations. This has also enabled the joint development of community work in the region.” For more information, visit: Youth Wiki/Finland: 7.8 Current debates and reforms

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.