Health For Members

'Live Danish, die young': How unhealthy are young people in Denmark?

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
'Live Danish, die young': How unhealthy are young people in Denmark?
A new alliance of over 20 patient organisations, medical guilds, and insurance companies is calling for better preventative health in Denmark. Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

'Live Danish, die young' - is the new phrase from a movement to promote better health among young people in Denmark. But what does the latest data reveal about health issues among young Danes?


Health and lifestyle issues among young Danish people have long been documented.

For example binge drinking and heavy smoking have been highlighted as a major problem among young Danes for years.

In 2019, a study by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) found that 40 percent of young Danes aged 15-16 had been drunk in the past 30 days.

This was the highest rate in Europe at the time, where the average was just 13 percent.

On a broader level, multiple studies have also shown that Danes struggle when it comes to physical activity levels.

That's why a new alliance of over 20 patient organisations, medical guilds, and insurance companies is now calling for better preventative health in Denmark.

A new call to action

The alliance believes Danes smoke and drink too much, do insufficient exercise, and have shorter average life spans than their Scandinavian counterparts.

"The Danes have an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle compared to other Nordic countries. We smoke and drink significantly more, and our diet and exercise could also be better. Live Danish, die young, I usually say," Jes Søgaard, professor emeritus in health economics at the University of Southern Denmark, told the TV2 broadcaster.

The alliance, led by the insurance company Danica, has prepared ten proposals for targets it wants the government to commit to achieving by 2035, including a 2.5-year increase in longevity, an increase in physical activity, and a halving of young people's binge drinking.

However, while obesity and physical inactivity are both singled out as significant issues plaguing the Danish population frequently, alcohol consumption has emerged as the most notable lifestyle-related health challenge.


Troubling statistics

Young people aged 16 to 24 in the country have topped survey findings as the age category that consumed the most alcohol for more than a decade, from 2010 to 2021.

However, according to the most recent National Health Profile survey, which gathered responses from thousands of Danes about their health, illness, and well-being, it is now the older population (those over 65) that leads when it comes to alcohol consumption.

The National Health Profile survey shows that more than one in five Danes aged 65 or older drink more than ten alcoholic beverages in a typical week.

In comparison, only 10.4 percent of Danes aged 35 to 44 reported drinking at that level.

Anette Søgaard Nielsen, a professor at the Unit for Clinical Alcohol Research at the University of Southern Denmark, told DR that the older generation grew up in a prosperous society where alcohol was a significant part of the social culture.

As they transition into retirement, many continue or even increase their alcohol consumption due to more free time and disposable income, and some seniors also use alcohol as a form of self-medication or to cope with loneliness and other psychological issues, Søgaard Nielsen explained.

However, while seniors have overtaken the young on the top of the findings, the level of consumption among Danish youth is still troublingly high, as 19 per cent reported drinking more than ten alcoholic beverages in a typical week (which is roughly the same percentage as the one among 55-64-year-olds). 


Unhealthy habits: How does Denmark fare at the EU level?

Several things stand out when comparing Denmark's population to that of its European Union (EU) peers.

According to the European Commission's latest Country Health Profile Report for 2023, behavioural risk factors accounted for at least 40 percent of deaths in Denmark in 2019.

While tobacco smoking rates in Denmark have significantly decreased over the past two decades, they remained higher than those in other Nordic countries.

In 2019, over one in three Danes (38 percent) engaged in regular heavy drinking, the highest proportion in the EU.

Adult obesity rates also increased to 16 percent in 2019, aligning with the EU average.


Efforts to address these issues

National efforts to reduce smoking have focused on younger generations, as outlined in Denmark's 2019 National Action Plan against Children and Young People Smoking.

One of the key objectives of this plan is to create a smoke-free youth generation by 2030. To help achieve this goal, a smoking ban in schools was implemented in 2021.

Given Denmark's history of being Europe's heaviest drinkers, the government has launched several initiatives to strengthen alcohol control policies.

In March 2022, the Danish Health Authority tightened national guidelines on low-risk drinking for both young people and adults.

The main recommendation is that children under 18 should not drink alcohol, and adults should limit their intake to no more than 10 drinks per week, with no more than 4 drinks per day.

In November 2023, the Danish Ministry of Health announced new measures to restrict alcohol sales to minors and increase the price of nicotine pouches.

"Children and young people are starting to drink far too early and they are drinking too much," said Health Minister Sophie Løhde at the time.



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also