European food and nutrition policies in action. Finland's food and nutrition policy: progress, problems and recommendations

N Milio
WHO Regional Publications. European Series 1998, 73: 63-75
Some progress has clearly been made in several aspects of Finland's food and nutrition policy: access to nutrition information and education, improvements in mass catering, increased availability of healthier food products, and pricing and quality requirements favourable to a healthy diet. Finnish eating patterns have improved in relation to some recommended foods and macronutrients. The structural changes in farm and food production are largely the result of new political and economic realities both in Finland and internationally, resulting in the Government focusing on fiscal efficiency, decentralization and a more competitive, consumer-oriented market. This new environment is creating pressures to reduce surplus animal fat production and to expand markets in new foods for Finns and other Europeans who, for reasons of demography, health or working or living arrangements, demand new and sometimes healthier foods. Within this context, some health leaders have been able to make and work for proposals that are consistent both with political and economic imperatives and with health needs. Although the populations health status is improving and in some respects is exemplary, diet-related death and illness rates and risk factors (such as serum cholesterol and obesity) are high and their decline, along with some healthy changes in eating patterns, has slowed since the mid-1980s (ironically, since the adoption of the nutrition policy). The more slowly improvements occur, the higher will be the social and economic costs. Major problems in policy implementation exist. Although much has been done in research and demonstration and in the development of national guidelines (in public catering and labeling, for example) there is an apparent lag in translating such soft technology into action and monitoring its implementation in order to develop corrective measures at the operational level. This problem may increase with decentralized budget control and a less regulated market, where listening to the consumer (whether an individual, retailer or caterer) may not necessarily result in healthier products are more accurate consumer information, especially as foreign products and media continue to attract Finnish young people. The lack of a leading strategic body that can authoritatively assess and anticipate problems in implementation, deal with them and coordinate and monitor the necessary action in fundamental to these issues. Rapid progress in economic and farm policy development and food enterprises can provide conditions supportive of health and nutrition goals if such interests are systematically taken into account and allowed to moderate potential negative changes. If it is to be effective, such accounting will require initiative, clarity of strategic purpose and organization by health and nutrition leaders.

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