Health behavior in the Nordic countries

  • Tinna Laufey Ásgeirsdóttir
  • Ulf-G Gerdtham
Keywords: health behaviors, smoking, drinking, body weight


This paper provides a descriptive analysis of the level of and change in cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and body weight in Nordic countries and compares them with non-Nordic OECD countries. Our results show that the average prevalence of daily smokers is significantly lower for Nordic countries compared to non-Nordic countries. Four out of five Nordic countries are below the non-Nordic average. However, for alcohol consumption and obesity, it is more difficult to see a clear difference between Nordic countries and non-Nordic countries. Sweden ranks relatively low on all three health behaviors, while alcohol consumption is relatively high in Finland and Denmark. Smoking rates are relatively high in Norway, while the obesity rate is relatively high in Iceland. We conclude that although Nordic populations are often perceived as relatively homogeneous in terms of cultural and political aspects, there are interesting differences in health behaviors within these Nordic countries. These differences need more focus in health-economics research and may have a significant potential in light of the availability of health surveys and administrative register data that can sometimes be linked at the individual level. Such Nordic analyses may, in general, help to move the research front forward and can also be used to predict changes in population health and to study the effectiveness of health economic policies.

Published: April 2016.