STYLE Policy Briefs give recommendations to decision-makers at the local and national level

STYLE Policy Brief 1/2023:

More Active Mobility in Everyday Life: Finland Benefits from Reducing Car Use

The Ministry of Transport and Communications’ National Programme for the Promotion of Walking and Cycling aims to increase the combined modal share of walking and cycling from the current 30% to 35–38% by 2030. In order to achieve the target, the current measures are not enough. Without more decisive action, the health, economic, and environmental benefits of increasing walking and cycling will remain a dream.

Cities have a long tradition of car-based transport and urban planning. This is reflected in the reduced physical activity and, consequently, the decline in public health and increasing health care costs. While the car-centric lifestyle still prevails, there are weak signals of a shift towards more active, healthy, and sustainable mobility patterns: carlessness is becoming more common in dense and large cities. In the Oulu region, the popularity of cycling is significant compared to other urban areas in Finland. In Helsinki, the conditions for reducing car use have increased. According to the recent national studies measuring school children’s physical activity, children in urban areas are more active than those in rural areas.

Behaviour change takes time. To bring about and consolidate change, we need to better understand people’s daily lives as well as create long-term plans across different sectors and levels of government to support active travel.

STYLE Policy Brief 2/2023:

Declining Fitness Levels are a Challenge to Well-Being in Finland – effective actions to increase physical activity and reverse the downward spiral of fitness

The physical functional capacity of Finns has been declining for decades:

  • The number of young men entering military service with poor physical fitness has increased eightfold
  • The number of men with poor muscle fitness has increased manifold
  • The average weight of new recruits has increased by 8 kg
  • The results of the MOVE! measurements of schoolchildren show the same alarming trend also in schoolchildren.

As a result of the prolonged negative trend described above, the physical fitness of Finns of working age will continue to deteriorate significantly also in the coming decades. By 2040, according to a very conservative forecast, only very few people aged 50 or over in Finland will be in good physical fitness. This vicious cycle will lead to an increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases (such as type 2 diabetes, depression, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, etc.). Being ill leads to increased sickness absences, earlier disability, and lower labour productivity. Unless this negative trend can be reversed, we will not be able to extend working life, the economic backbone of the state, municipalities, and cities will be broken, and the base of the national defence (the reserve army) will not hold up. The steady decline in fitness and increase in obesity will cause problems across all sectors of government.

No amount of economic growth will be enough if the downward spiral of the physical functional capacity and fitness of working-age Finns is not reversed. We need multiple, simultaneous, effective measures across all sectors, at the national as well as the local level. These simultaneous, multi-sectoral actions require strong leadership and coordination between different sectors. Therefore, at the national level, the Prime Minister’s Office and, at the local level, the municipal or city management group, are capable actors to lead these simultaneous measures that are needed across sectors of government. Effective measures are needed for those in the working life today who are struggling with their physical functional capacity, as well as to ensure the functional capacity of the workforce in the future.

STYLE Policy Brief 3/2023:

Sports Clubs Can Contribute to the Physical Activity of Children and Adolescents in More Diverse and Sustainable Activities

An increasing number of children are taking part in supervised club activities, starting at a younger age. They also start focusing on one sport at a younger age, and the dropping out of club activities starts already at the age of 11. These changes are challenging the current club activities. There has been a large increase in participation in club activities. In the 1990s, just over 30% of children and young people in Finland practiced sports in a club, while today, the participation rate has risen to 60%. The age at which children start participating in club activities has decreased by an average of one year per decade. Those born before the 1950s typically started participating in clubs at the age of 12, compared with an average age of six today. This change means that children specialise in one sport and then drop out of club activities too early. As a result, the hobby does not continue as far into adolescence as it should. This increases the likelihood of inactivity in adolescence and further on in adulthood. The clubs do not need to fix the insufficient physical activity of the population alone, but they have the potential to develop their own activities in promoting physical activity and physical education, as well as their cooperation with other actors.