Children refuse to walk even a kilometre by foot, notes Peeter Mardna, long-time director of the control department of the Estonian Health Organization. At the end of the schooldays most children just rush to buses and trams in order to drive for one or two stops only.
„Estonian young people make 10 times less physical effort than would be healthy for them but nobody considers this to be a problem", says Mardna. "For example some years ago a large new sport hall Saku Hall was built which cost over 20 million Euros. But how has this contributed to the health of the Estonian population? Once a week a dozen professional sportsmen play ball there and several thousands of people sit and watch, eating snacks and drinking beer. Being a member of the Estonian Olympic committee, I explained that the same amount of money would be enough for building 600-700 camping houses on Estonian tracking roads, so that people could go camping, walking, skiing, riding, rowing. Like this about 20 thousand people would be activated. But still we have decided to build a sport hall and those that decide believe that medicine and doctors are responsible for people's health and not the people themselves.
A flawed understanding of freedom
Peeter Mardna has since years been giving talks to students in schools about health and he observes that young people are even less aware about healthy living than grown-ups. The most common answer the adolescents give is: I move as much as I feel like and eat whatever I want. Estonia is supposed to be a free country and nobody can force anybody to do what they don't want to do. Like adults the young people also believe that doctors will help when something is wrong. These people do not acknowledge the fact that setting one's own health under a risk is not really a freedom.
Mardna has been active in politics and remembers how in the mid 90s several members of the parliament claimed that treating open tuberculosis should be left to the free will of the ill person. This question was discussed until the moment Estonia became the leading country in the world with resistant tuberculosis cases. There are also a great number of HIV positive people in Estonia but doctors cannot find out who carry the virus since it is a violation of personal rights to make their names public in the health databased. The unfortunate consequence is that it is impossible for doctors to treat all the HIV positive.
Is beer an innocent drink?
12,5 litres of pure alcohol per person per year gives Estonia the second place in the world, but regardless of that nothing is being done to fight alcoholism in this country. Instead one can watch television programs where Estonian celebrities boast about their ability to drink four beers every day without any health problems. Such programs do not cause any scandals either. And the Estonian young people learn from the local celebrities and believe that beer is a light drink and causes no harm. In reality drinking 4 beers a day will make up 4-5 litres of the 12,5 litres of the Estonian average.
What to do?
Mardna has two concrete proposals; first of all strong beers with high alcohol content should disappear from the market and example should be taken from traditional beer countries where beer is for drinking and not for getting drunk.
Secondly Mardna proposes that young people and adults should make contracts with their family doctors where the doctor writes what he or she allows the patient to consume and the young person in turn writes down what he or she promises to for his or her health. Once a year the partners of the contract should check how well they have fulfilled their goals.
Peeter Mardna: „I don't think that the patient-doctor contract would fundamentally change everything but even if only 10 % of people would follow the advice written in the contract, it would be of more profit than building yet another regional hospital that costs millions of kroon. The hospital can only deal with the consequences and does not solve the problems."