The "North Karelia": how Finns mortality from cardiovascular disease decreased by 7 times, or 13 plus years of health

For forty years the whole world is watching unique experiment of the Finns. While we live in ignorance, Finland has increased the life expectancy by 13 years and decrease mortality from cardiovascular disease in seven times, moving on is healthy salt with potassium and low sodium first separate region and then the entire population. The example of the Finns is now followed by millions of inhabitants of Europe and America. This project is not economic development, not subsidies to conduct cardioprotector and not the fight against Smoking and alcohol. The essence of the project is to investigate the influence of food on the problem of high mortality from strokes and heart attacks.

After the Second world war, research on the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases began to be actively conducted in Finland. It was found that mortality from cardiovascular diseases and neoplasms in Finns is very high. This fact the Finns declared a national disaster and demanded decision-making at the state level, which began to pretend to life in the 70-ies. For the most important study on the impact of salt on health and life expectancy, the most "sick" region of Finland with the lowest socio-economic status — North Karelia was chosen. At that time, the region ranked first in the world in the number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases. The population of the country ignored vegetable food, the diet was dominated by fatty meat, butter and muffins. There were all risk factors: excess cholesterol, Smoking, fatty foods, fiber and vitamin deficiencies. As in Ukraine, the traditional food of Finns has a lot of animal fats and excess salt – canned cucumbers, tomatoes, salted fish on the table and much more. It was decided to start changing the diet of the Finns. Changing the diet of people with centuries — old eating habits is an extremely difficult task. But doctors and scientists succeeded. Went in the course of social advertising. In parallel with the decrease in salt consumption, actions were carried out to reduce Smoking and consumption of fatty foods. Explanatory work among Finns allowed to limit consumption of animal fats, to increase consumption of vegetable food. And most importantly-it was possible to reduce salt intake per day from 15 g to 9 g (at a rate of 5 g – according to the recommendation of the world Health Organization). To do this, instead of the usual salt, Finns were recommended a salt mixture enriched with 30% potassium salt. Even in school canteens in Finland, suppliers had to reduce the salt content in the products, and ordinary salt there was also replaced by salt with potassium. The results were a sensation:

Mortality from cardiovascular disease has declined in the region 7 times

Life expectancy has increased by 13 years old

Finnish salt

  • Potassium salt - 30%
  • Sodium salt - 70%

The project "Northern Karelia" achieved more than anticipated in the original objectives. The project contributed to the impressive improvement in the health of the population, including with the new balanced salt enriched with potassium. And this is a very encouraging result in a situation where chronic noncommunicable diseases have become the leading cause of death in the world: prevention is real and can give a significant improvement in health status.

The results of the project "Northern Karelia" for the period 1970-2006

* Per 100,000 population. Among men and women aged 35-64 years
  • The average annual mortality in the region
  • Mortality from cardiovascular disease
  • Mortality from coronary heart disease
  • Mortality from cerebrovascular disease
  • The team of specialists in sub-salt project "North Karelia" in the early 1980sAntti Tanskanen, Pirjo Ruotsolaynen, Jaakko Tuomilehto, Pekka Puska, Heikki Karppanen, Pirjo Pietinen, Aulikki Nissinen


The project "NORTHERN KARELIA": from North Karelia to national project

About the project "Northern Karelia" and related national projects in Finland have already published huge number of materials and articles. We decided to prepare a new book describing the most recent experience and results, and at the same time repeating information about the history, principles, methods, the first events and developments of the project, because it is of considerable interest for countries which are just beginning similar activities. So, in our work, there are the old chapters from previous books, and the new is dedicated to a more contemporary experience, focusing mainly on what was achieved at the national level.

I hope that this book will benefit many professionals and organizations working in the field of prevention of chronic non-communicable diseases and promote healthy lifestyles in different parts of the world.
Helsinki, December 2008.