Finland’s obesity rates growing faster in the cities than countryside

Globally, people who live in the countryside are getting more obese, faster, than city slickers. In Finland it's the other way around.

File picture obesity, someone standing on scales / Credit: iStock

Obesity rates among Finland’s city dwellers is growing faster than among people who live in the countryside.

It’s a pattern that bucks global trends, where around the world obesity is spreading faster in the countryside rather than the cities.

The surprising results come from scientists at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu and Kuopio, who took part in a worldwide study of body mass index BMI rates.

BMI is a measurement used to assess whether someone has a healthy weight for their height. An individual is considered overweight when their BMI is above 25.

Global trends from city to countryside 

Globally, rural areas were responsible for more than 80% of the increase in BMI in low and middle-income countries since 1985.

In 1985 urban men and women in more than 75% of countries had a higher BMI than their rural counterparts but over the last three decades the gape between urban and rural BMIs in many of these countries has shrunk or even been reversed.

However in Finland, people living in rural areas had a slightly higher BMI than their counterparts who live in the city at the beginning and end of the decades-long study period – although urban dwellers were catching up fast.

The findings of the study challenge the idea in global terms, that obesity is linked to urbanisation, and show that obesity is a growing health concern everywhere, not just in urban areas.

But there are also reasons would could help explain why Finland’s situation is different than other countries.

“In Finland, the gap between rural and urban areas is smaller than in many other countries. Here, differences in educational level and health awareness are not as great as in many other countries, and people are aware of health-promoting lifestyles regardless of where they live” explains Docent Sari Voutilainen, from the University of Eastern Finland’s Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition.

“In Finland, people can eat healthy food throughout the year even in rural areas and small towns” she adds.

The new study combined data from more than 1000 researches in different parts of the world, in addition to those in eastern Finland.