The nutritional value of diet in Iceland improved significantly during the last century, and it now comes closer in most respects to the targets set by the Icelandic Nutrition Council. Surveys in 1990 and 2002 show a decrease in the daily intake of fat, mainly due to less consumption of margarine and nonskimmed milk, and an increase in consumption of fruits (39%) and vegetables (15%). There is a clear social gradient, with those who have better education or higher incomes eating more vegetables. On the negative side, the country's consumption of fish per capita has diminished by 43% during this period and is now only slightly above many other European countries (Halldorsson, 2003).
Obesity is an increasing problem in Iceland, especially among children. In a recent study, body mass index was found to have increased considerably between 1938 and 1998 among nine-year-olds. The proportion of overweight children has increased from a few percent in 1938 to around 20% in 1998, and the proportion of obese children has increased from less than 1% to approximately 6% (Briem, 1999).
There has been a similar development among adults. In 1994, approximately 60% of women and 70% of men aged 45 to 64 years were either overweight or obese, which is comparable to that observed in many Western countries (Thorgeirsdottir, 2001).
One recent study of adult Icelanders concluded that one of four Icelandic men and one of five women do not participate in regular physical activity. More than half of adult Icelanders are overweight or obese, but the risk is halved among those who exercise at least five days per week, compared to those who exercise less frequently. Sedentary lifestyle has become even more common among Icelanders than in the neighboring countries (Gudmundsdottir, 2004).
Follow-up surveys on the number of daily smokers in Iceland have shown favorable results in recent decades. In 1985, approximately 43% of men and 37% of women smoked on a daily basis, but in 2001 the figures were 26.5% and 24.6%, respectively. Daily smoking among tenth-graders has declined steadily according to surveys, from 23% in 1998 to 14% in 2002. Although consumption of alcohol in liters per capita is lower than in most of Europe, the consumption has been increasing steadily and had reached 6.3 liters per person 15 years and older in 2002 (Halldorsson, 2003).
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