Health differences increase in Norway so that the rich and well educated live longer

Parents and childrenParents and children.Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB scanpix

While health disparities have decreased in several countries in Europe in recent years,the arrows in Norway point the opposite way, showed the ‘Folkehelser’ report 2018.


People with higher education and good income have always had a higher life expectancy than those with lower education and income. In recent decades, Norwegian public health has generally improved. We live longer and the differences between the communities in society became increasingly smaller, but then something happened. This was shown in the fresh analysis of Norwegian public health.

“In the period between 2000 to 2009 we saw an outflow and a tendency to decline in the differences, but then we saw an increase in the differences again after 2010, which is surprising and worrying. We do not quite know the reason, we only see that those with higher education and income live longer, so the differences are getting bigger,” said senior researcher, Bjørn Heine Strand of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) to NTB news.

Women and men with the highest education live on average five to six years longer than those with the lowest education.

Residence and living habits

Generally, Norwegians are quite healthy and life expectancy is among the world’s longest,almost 81 years for men, and just over 84 years for women. However, it varies quite a bit.There are large variations from county to county, between municipalities and inside the largest cities, especially between men. For example, 12 years separates the municipalities with the highest and lowest life expectancy for men, while it is ten years for women.

In Oslo, there is up to eight years of difference between life expectancy for men in different districts. In Bergen and Stavanger, the corresponding difference is three to four years, while in Trondheim the difference is one year.

Most of the geographical variations in mortality can be explained by various socioeconomic factors, and Strand pointed to what is probably the main reason for the health differences:‘’Living habits. Those who have longer education and higher income often eat more healthy food, and are more physically active. Not least, smoking creates the major social health differences. There are five times more smokers in the group with only elementary education than in the group with college and university education,’’ said Strand.

Diseases such as lung cancer are also more common in the lower socioeconomic groups.

Get a grip

Despite information campaigns, disease development and taxation policy, in the group with only elementary education, almost one in four, both men and women, are daily smokers.

‘’What can you really do if this is about personal choice?’’

“First of all, it becomes too simple and unfair to push responsibility to the individual and say it’s just about choice. This is closely linked to social conditions, culture and influence,’’ said Strand.

He is strongly committed to intervention, referring to the smoking act, age limits for alcohol purchases, vaccination offerings for all children, and free pregnancy control as examples of measures that have helped reduce social health differences. He is supported by FHI Director, Camilla Stoltenberg.

“Good public health policy affects the entire population’s health long before they become patients in hospital queues. The earlier prevention begins, the better. The authorities shouldmake arrangements so that it is easy for everyone to take care of their health.

In terms of tobacco, alcohol and road safety measures, public health policy has contributed to increased health. Now we need to develop policies that make it easier for people to eat healthily and be physically active,” she said.


© NTB scanpix / #Norway Today