Is Swedish healthiness a myth?

5:10 min

Are Swedes really are as healthy as they themselves, and many visitors, believe?

Once the temperature has reached double digits and the sun is up for more than a few hours, you tend to see Swedes flock to the streets in full running gear or take their bikes to work.

But is this in any way an accurate representation of the average Swede's health? Are we really all health buffs or is there another side to this phenomenon?

Erik Hemmingsson, a clinical research fellow at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who has focused much of his research on obesity and exercise, believes that most Swedes are indeed quite health conscious - but adds that it varies greatly on where you live.

A recent pan-european survey conducted on behalf of the European Commission from last year, also confirmed the notion of the health conscious Swede, ranking Sweden as the country where the largest number of people exercise regularly.

A whopping seven out of ten Swedes responded that they exercise at least once a week, whereas in Bulgaria the same number of people responded that they never exercise.

Hemmingsson argues that hard work and an active lifestyle is something that's ingrained in the Swedish culture.

Hemmingsson also believes that the Swedish system of non-profit, open for all, sports clubs and federations lead by volunteers instead of organisations have contributed to a generally more active lifestyle.

Roughly two million, or one in five, Swedes are members of one of the over 20,000 different sports clubs here, and the public sports movement in Sweden has a steady grip on the population.

However, it's important to point out that while Sweden is doing comparatively well in terms of public health, the country is not free of problems like obesity or high cholesterol. Swedes have consistently gotten heavier since the 1980's and more than half of the population is overweight judging by Body Mass Index figures.

On average though, it seems that Swedes are generally quite health conscious and that we do exercise more frequently than many other nationalities. Myth confirmed.

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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