According to the results of the 2021 census, around one third of the population have a long-term illness or health problem. This is two percentage points higher than in the previous census in 2011. 28 percent of the population consider their daily activities to be limited as a result of health issues.
As part of the 2021 population census, people were asked whether they had any long-standing illnesses or health problems. "Whether or not a disability or reduced capacity for work had been diagnosed was considered irrelevant. What mattered was the individual's own assessment," explained Liina Osila, Population and Housing Census project manager at Statistics Estonia.
"It was also asked to what extent the person had felt limited when performing some of their daily activities in the past six months due to a health problem," Osila said.
The results of the 2021 census show that a third (33 percent) of Estonia's population have a long-standing illness or health problem. This figure was slightly lower – 31 percent – at the time of the previous census in 2011.
An estimated 28 percent of the population feel limited in their daily activities because of a health problem. 18 percent said they were somewhat limited and 10 percent felt severely limited due to a health-related issue. 28 percent of the population also reported being limited due to a health problem in the 2011 survey. However, at that time an additional four percent said they were severely limited (14 percent).
Share of older people limited by health problems has decreased
As expected, the census revealed, that the highest proportion of people with a long-standing illness or health problem, were those in the oldest age group surveyed. 69 percent of people over the age of 65 in Estonia suffer from a long-term illness or health problem. This percentage has remained stable between the two censuses.
The most positive change in the data is, that in the oldest age group (65 and above), there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of people who feel that health problems severely limit their daily activities, from 39 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in the 2021 census. "The fact that older people, despite their health problems, do not feel significantly limited in their daily lives shows that, in addition to good health services, our society is increasingly attentive to different needs, and this allows people to live a full life even with health problems," said Osila.
The prevalence of health problems among young people, however, is now higher than at the time of the previous census. Seven percent of children aged 0–14 had a long-standing illness or health problem in 2011, compared with eight percent now. An even bigger increase is seen amongst the 15–29 age group. 14 percent of people in this bracket had a long-term illness or health problem in 2011, whereas now 17 percent do.
Long-standing health problems more common among women
35 percent of women surveyed, said they had a long-term health problem, while the figure for men was lower, at 29 percent. This was also the case in the previous census (33 percent for women, 28 percent for men). "However, if we observe the gender gap by age groups, a significant difference is only seen among those aged 65 and over. The figures for younger age groups remain similar to before. It should also be noted that the average life expectancy of women is somewhat higher, which is why there are more women than men in the older age group," Osila explained.
As women have more long-term illnesses and health problems, it is logical that they also feel more limited in their daily activities than men (Among women, 11 percent feel severely by health issues and 19 percent felt somewhat limited. Among me, nine percent said they were severely limited, while 16 percent were somewhat limited by health problems.
The counties with the largest share of people suffering from long-standing health problems were Põlva and Ida-Viru counties, with 42 percent each, almost nine percent higher than the national average of 33 percent. These figures were also high in both counties during the 2011 census (43 percent in Põlva County and 39 percent in Ida-Viru County).
According to the data, inhabitants of Harju County are the healthiest, with just 27 percent saying they have long-standing health problems, nearly six percent lower than the national average. This figure has, however, increased since 2011, when 25 percent of those living in Harju County said they had long-term health issues.
The rankings are similar for the proportion of people who consider their daily activities limited due to a health problem. The highest share is in Põlva County, where 42 percent of the population feel limited by a health issue, followed by Võru (37 percent), Valga (36 percent), and Ida-Viru (36 percent) counties. Residents of Harju County (22 percent) generally feel the least limited by health problems.
"The trend here is clear and logical – regions with ageing populations have a higher proportion of people with long-standing health problems. The lowest share of people with long-term health issues is found in Rae Rural Municipality (20 percent), where the average age of the population is 33 years. The proportion is highest in Räpina Rural Municipality (46 percent), where the average age of the population is 14 years higher (47 years)," explained Osila.
People with higher education have fewest health problems
The census results also highlight the link between level of education and health status, which had also been confirmed in previous studies. "Looking at how educational attainment relates to health, it turns out that people with higher education have the lowest rates of long-term illness or health problems," Osila said.
34 percent of people who have competed higher education have a long-standing health problem and 27 percent feel limited in their daily activities because of it. Of those finishing secondary education, 39 percent report having a long-standing health problem and a third (33 percent) are limited in their everyday activities. Among people with only basic levels of education, 40 percent have a health problem and 36 percent feel limited by it in their daily activities.
Information on the state of health was collected through the population and housing census survey from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2022. Specifically, people were asked whether they had a long-standing illness or health problem, and to what extent they had been limited in some of the usual activities of daily living because of a health problem in the past six months. Social constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic were not included. An illness or health problem is considered long-standing if it has lasted for six months or is expected to last for at least six months. The results include issues related to both mental and physical health. Further Information on the nature of the health problems was not collected in the census.
More information on the census data related to the health of Estonia's population can be found here.
Editor: Michael Cole