Health check investment for Danish cleaners

30th of October 2014
Health check investment for Danish cleaners

Cleaners, waste collectors and other workers who do heavy physical work should get a free health check every year. That is the aim of the Danish government. ECJ correspondent in Scandinavia Petra Sjouwerman reports.

Do you smoke? Are you overweight? Then it is probably no news that this puts you at risk of developing life-threatening diseases. But if you also have no, or little education and you have a physically demanding job, the risk is even higher.

Danish studies have shown that life expectancy of unskilled and low-skilled workers is significantly lower than that of the highly educated section of the population. The difference? Ten years!

That is why the Danish union 3F offered its members a health check to measure blood pressure, cholesterol level, heart condition and weight. The project included 6,000 low-skilled workers in 50 different jobs over the course of three years (2011-1013). The pilot project has resulted in, amongst other things, one out of every three union members who work as cleaners being referred to their physician for treatment.

City Renovation, a company that handles waste collection in Copenhagen, was one of the participants in the pilot project. Several of its 75 employees changed their eating and exercise habits after the health check and have successfully lowered their cholesterol levels.

“With this result, the health check is a good investment for society,” declared the union’s vice-president Jane Korczak.

The Danish government is now planning to allocate funds to offer a free health check once a year to people in the risk group. This way the government hopes to fight inequality in health. Danish studies have shown that especially men are at risk. In male-dominated workplaces, such as waste collection, it is not ‘cool’ to go to the doctor.

But in the past few months, a debate has arisen over the effectiveness of a yearly health check. According to several Danish experts it is not proven that people live longer by getting regular health checks.

Despite criticism, Danish minister of public pealth, Nick Hækkerup (Social Democrats), stands by his plans. Much to the satisfaction of the Danish Medical Association.

“Tobacco is the immediate cause of the inequality in health growing in Denmark. While many highly educated people have stopped smoking in recent years, this has not been the case among Danes with a short education. They are the ones that most often get lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and heart diseases,” said chairman Mads Koch Hansen of the Danish Medical Association.

The safety representative at City Renovation – whose job it is to focus on safety and a good working environment - finds the health check a really good idea.

“But it requires a follow-up, like for example a help programme to stop smoking, advice on healthy eating habits or advice on training, so that our body can last until retirement,” said Stig Boye.


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