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Health Report Sparks Criticism

Published tisdag 2 februari 2010 kl 14.22
A Sami in national dress

A newly released report by the Swedish National Institute of Public Health has sparked criticism for its lacking scientific methods. The report on the state of the health of Sweden's five official minorities comes to the conclusion that "Jews eat a lot of fruit and vegetable and are less vulnerable to poverty".

Time and again Sweden has been criticised both by the United Nations and by the Council of Europe for doing too little to improve the living conditions of its minority populations. The international organizations have explicitly condemned Sweden's inadequate efforts to help its indigenous Sami people to maintain a lifestyle in accordance with their traditions. And time and again the Samis have filed complaints with the UN or other international bodies for what they consider to be discrimination.

But the United Nations has also pointed to inadequate efforts by the Swedish authorities concerning the living conditions of other groups. Sweden's Finnish-speaking minority is believed to have a higher tendency for alcoholism and suicide than ethnic Swedes, while the Roma have simply suffered from general discrimination in their everyday lives.

So, after years of complaints, the Swedish government finally assigned the National Institute of Public Health with mapping out the state of health among the five official minorities in this country: Sami, Finns, Tornedal-Finns, Roma and Jews. But just the government approach has already sparked criticism. Some Roma believe the health survey to be an indirect way for the authorities to register their ethnicity. And representatives of the Jewish community say there is no such thing as "Jewish health" - not in Sweden, nor anywhere else.

Nevertheless, the survey carried out by Saman Rashid of the National Institute of Public Health was published a couple of days ago. But the quality of the science has been strongly criticised for such conclusions as: "Tornedal-Finns have a tendency of worse physical health than other groups living in Sweden". Or "Jews eat more fruit and vegetables than the rest of the Swedish population". And "they are less vulnerable to poverty".

Researcher Saman Rashid concedes that his survey might be a little problematic in some ways. Only 400 of Sweden's approximately 20,000 Jews answered his questionnaire. The vast majority - of all minority groups - refrained from answering questions concerning their health and social situation. But Saman Rashid also maintains that there is no clear scientific definition as to when exactly a survey meets scientific standards.

The coming months will show if the minority health report has actually helped Sweden to improve its somewhat battered reputation when it comes to dealing with its minorities.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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