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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Alarms ring over health and longevity

Norwegians have long prided themselves on having healthy lifestyles that contribute t0 a long life, but a new report warns that young Norwegians especially face serious health risks. Changes in diet and far too many hours sitting in front of computer screens are major concerns as Norway already has fallen in international longevity rankings.

Health Director Bjørn Guldvog is worried, after presenting a national health status report this week that shows how Norway now ranks 10th in the world in terms of expected longevity. In 1960, Norway topped world statistics for longevity.

‘World champions’ no longer
The report, prepared by the state health directorate, compared data from 16 other countries and showed that both Swedes and Italians are now among those living longer than Norwegians. Japanese live the longest in the world, with women expected to live to age 86 and men to age 80. In Norway, the numbers were 83.5 years for women and 79 for men.

“We need to moderate our impression that we are world champions in health,” Guldvog told newspaper Dagsavisen after presenting the report that also worries Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

“Norwegians still live longer and are healthier than people in many other countries,” Støre noted, “but there are some warning lamps flashing here.”

Passive and overweight
The report also noted that more young Norwegians are now overweight, with their overall average weight rising about 1 percent per year. “We know that many youngsters also sit in front of a TV screen, a PC or a smart phone as much as 45 hours a week,” Guldvog told newspaper Aftenposten. “That’s more than a full work week.”

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has also ranked psychiatric illness as second on the list of illnesses affecting Norwegians, just after heart trouble, and the health directorate’s statistics show that around 10 percent of Norwegian youth suffer from psychiatric problems.

Guldvog was most concerned about the trends emerging among Norwegian youth. “We’re seeing some unfortunate developments here,” he told Dagsavisen. He sees a need to follow up children and teenagers better, set limits on their time online and encourage more physical activity. The report also warned of a steady increase in dementia among adult Norwegians who still are living relatively long lives.

‘Other countries have progressed’
Støre agreed there’s a need for preventive health care and that health care “can always be better,” but he noted that Norway’s decline in the longevity statistics doesn’t necessarily mean Norwegian lifespans are shorter than they once were. “It rather shows that other countries have shown progress in improving their own longevity, than that overall health in Norway is worse,” Støre told Dagsavisen.

He also said that the relatively high rate of psychiatric illness in Norway doesn’t mean that “we’re more mentally ill today than we were 20 years ago, but we’re more open about it. And that’s positive.”

Støre stressed, though, that the health ministry wants to offer better psychiatric care closer to where people live, at the municipal level, and offer earlier treatment.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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