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Alarming Health Data for Poles

The health condition of Polish women and men is in a dire state, as revealed by data presented during the 10th Public Health Congress in 2023. “Before noon, 1.2 million ‘monkeys’ will be sold in stores. Some say it’s the most popular domestic pet in Poland,” stated Prof. Artur Mamcarz, a cardiologist. Experts have proposed urgent changes in response to the concerning findings.

From the data presented by experts, an image emerges of an increasingly unhealthy Polish population with shorter life expectancies. We are drinking more than during the PRL era, many are still addicted to smoking, obesity rates are rising, and we are breathing air that is one of the most polluted in Europe.

Poles Drink, Smoke, Gain Weight, and Die Faster

According to OECD data published in 2023, life expectancy in Poland is 75.5 years, 5.2 years shorter than the OECD countries’ average. Roughly every 10th Pole assesses their health as poor or very poor. Furthermore, preventable mortality through public health interventions is 44% higher than the OECD average – with 227 avoidable deaths per 100,000 residents in Poland, compared to the OECD average of 158/100,000.

Between 2019-2021, the life expectancy of Polish men decreased by 2.3 years (from 74.1 to 71.8), and for women, it decreased by 2.1 years (from 81.8 to 79.7). This trend began even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as indicated by Małecka-Libera.

In 2022, 305,000 children were born, while 448,000 deaths were recorded (a decrease of 143,000 Poles).

From the data presented, it is evident that 56.7% of Poles are overweight or obese, 8 million smoke cigarettes, over 2 million significantly abuse alcohol, and only 40% of Poles undergo regular health check-ups.

According to UNICEF, 630,000 children in Poland require specialized psychological and psychiatric assistance.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a dramatic increase in excess deaths was recorded. In 2022, among 38 OECD countries, Poland ranked first in this regard (per capita).

Dr. Jerzy Gryglewicz from the Institute of Health Management at Lazarski University pointed out that behavioral factors related to lifestyle account for the loss of approximately 49% of healthy life years and around 44% of deaths. He added that the greatest contributors to the loss of healthy life years are tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, and a high BMI.

“It is still morning. 1.2 million so-called ‘monkeys’ will be sold in stores. By noon, half of these people will consume one or two ‘monkeys.’ Alcohol is readily available in Poland. Solutions must be found,” appealed Prof. Leszek Czupryniak, Head of the Department of Diabetology and Internal Medicine at the Medical University of Warsaw.

Experts emphasized during the Congress that Poland has one of the highest levels of air pollution. The European Environment Agency estimates that 53,000 deaths are attributed to air pollution in Poland each year.

“We are a country that derives 60% of its energy from coal burning, and 3,800,000 single-family buildings use traditional heating methods,” said Prof. Bolesław Samoliński, Head of the Department of Public and Environmental Health at the Medical University of Warsaw.

8 Public Health Priorities – Experts on Necessary Changes

In the first two discussion panels of the 10th Public Health Congress, a total of 8 priorities for the coming years were highlighted. These priorities were identified by experts participating in the Thursday discussions.

The most crucial aspect should be the population-wide control of risk factors, a task for everyone. A pressing task today is the rationalization of healthcare spending, as there are cost-effective and non-cost-effective procedures, pointed out Prof. Zbigniew Gaciong, Rector of the Medical University of Warsaw.

The key element in the upcoming period should be the development of a national strategy that encompasses all stages of life, focusing on prevention, promotion, and consequently, secondary and tertiary prevention. It would also break down silos in policy – integrating all actions of ministries that can impact citizens’ health and safety, said Prof. Bolesław Samoliński.

Wise health education as a long-term investment, treated not as a cost, is essential. People need to be addressed through the lens of health gains, stated Dr. Marek Rutka, a member of the Left Party.

“We must deal with excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. It is a significant problem in Poland; it is unbelievable that we have higher alcohol consumption than during the PRL era,” emphasized Dr. Tomasz Latos, former Chairman of the Health Committee of the Sejm.

“I would like all public health graduates to have jobs. Public health needs to be institutionalized. The most important institution should be the National Institute of Public Health PZH – State Research Institute – with access to local sanitary-epidemiological stations,” advised Prof. Jarosław Pinkas, National Consultant for Public Health.

“We are a different country than the Scandinavian countries. Here, the authority of politicians, rulers, is as low as possible, so the ability to introduce standards in this way is limited. We need to apply different solutions; a good example is the sugar tax, but it should be much higher. We need to find medicines and medical interventions to cure people of addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. Now the state behaves like a pimp – it sells cigarettes or alcohol and then treats diseases,” said Prof. Leszek Czupryniak.

In public health, we cannot manage without journalists who are aware of problems and will speak and write about them, as well as without politicians. The solutions they propose, after consultations, provide a chance to avoid problems, noted Prof. Artur Mamcarz.

“My priority is to build a nationwide prevention program for children – everything starts with them, with their knowledge, awareness, and choices,” stated Beata Małecka-Libera.

After 10 years of debate, it is time to take action. We no longer have time for discussions; we know exactly what needs to be done. If there is no leader, a person who understands public health, who will bring together all ministries, consolidate the community, we will spend another 10 years just discussing. We need to amend the Public Health Act and “hardcode” the measures that must appear there, change the organization and supervision – to eliminate the silos of ministries. We cannot afford for the Minister of Finance to provide some “scraps” for a national program or preventive actions. Funds must also come from excise duties and taxes – on tobacco and sugar,” concluded the senator.

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