The Truth Behind Poor Czech Health

The Czech Republic is iconic for both it’s rare architectural beauty and historical culture, however there is a sinister health condition affecting over 28% of its population. Obesity is prevalent throughout the nation – with the highest rate in Europe – and we sat with expert Dr. Marie Nejedla to delve deeper into the crisis.

Dr. Nejedla is employed by the Czech Republic’s National Institute of Public Health. The establishment is primarily concerned with health promotion, disease prevention and the preparation of legislation in the field of health protection. It provides Czechs with vital care through their surveillance of newly emerging infections, incremental in their fight against obesity and its impacts. An expert who has seen remarkable changes in Czech society over the past 30 years, she helped to shed light onto an issue which is seemingly starring the country in the face. It is abundantly clear that the Czech’s food and drink culture is excessive, a nation associated with all the connotations of an unhealthy lifestyle.

The Czech Republic’s healthcare system is constantly strained:

Dr Nejedla stated during the interview that although the average life expectancy has increased, this is not intrinsically linked to a better state of national health. Advances in both medicines and healthcare professionals have been cited as the causation of this rise in longevity, “the health of the population is not better after many years, but diagnostics and therapy is better and higher quality.” She mentioned the recent developments in health education and public knowledge implementation – which has helped the impending epidemic. Although, more still needs to be done to create a healthy society. The country’s damning statistics extend into the consequences of the outrageously high obesity, intrinsically linked to the cardiovascular diseases that accounts for the death of around half of the population.

Traditional food and drink culture:

When asked about her opinion of the former Soviet bloc member’s food and drink culture, alcohol consumption is not far off the agenda – accentuating the impacts of their meat and carbohydrate-laden diet. Nejedla believes the consistently heavy drinking is a leading issue, “I think daily consumption (of alcohol) is a big problem, more than binge drinking.” Official government documents from 2015 outline clear reasoning for this, claiming the Czech Republic’s “alarming level of alcohol use among children and adolescents.” Evidently this culture of alcoholism is part and parcel of young people’s lives, leading the average Czech citizen to currently consume an eye-watering 143 litres of beer per year – the highest in world rankings. The consistent drinking is a more pressing issue for health-workers – like Nejedla – rather than the devouring of alcohol synonymous with tourists of the country. She believes this exists across all members of society, arguing that the “consumption of alcohol doesn’t depend on income and salary.”

Does Prague reflect the national picture?

Working in Prague on a daily basis, Nejedla was in an excellent position to judge whether food and drink consumption in the Czech capital reflects the wider national picture. The professional alluded to Prague’s favourable quality of life statistics, insinuating that the better education leads to a greater likelihood in a healthier food intake. “They (people who live in Prague) have the higher education, have the longest life expectancy, have the highest salary. The quality of healthy food depends on education, depends on income.” Despite this statement, Dr. Nejedla is under no allusion that healthier cuisine is not only available to the more affluent in Prague, “It is possible to buy vegetables and fruit … we have many materials for people concerning healthy food and how prepare healthy food, cheap healthy food.” Affordable fresh food markets inundate the city, proving that the causes of the widely unhealthy lifestyle faced by the Czech Republic is not straightforward.

Influence of Communism – past and present:

The country’s historical tale is a fascinating one, even if one only looks at the disruption faced in Czech society over the past 30 years. The communist regime was ousted from its rule of the country – formerly part of Czechoslovakia – in 1989, the impact of this continuing to be felt in the country’s food and drink culture today. Under the communist regime, the health-worker argues that “many unhealthy products were not available here (in the Czech Republic) and maybe it was a plus for lifestyle.” This culture of humble consumption was ironically despite a lack of nutritional information that is available today, through materials the NIPH attempt to promote. Nejedla goes onto explain that Prague’s culture of poor nutrition is a direct result of its existence as a post-communist capital city, “healthy food was starting to be available, but unhealthy food to was also available … the people (now) have a lot of possibilities of how to eat. Of course, a lot of processed food and fast-food became available too, not good because processed food has a lot of salt.” She alludes to this amongst several other factors, including the a digitally-based lifestyle and lack of exercise which has come to cripple the millennial generation.

Predictions for the future:

Despite being almost impossible to predict, I inevitably discussed the future of the Czech Republic’s food and drink culture. With the national school curriculum increasingly focused on a healthy lifestyle, the government are finally attempting to rectify their issue of poor health. This includes a greater range of nutritional advice – healthier options in school canteens becoming a national requirement – and better educated staff to lead Czech children in the right direction. Nejedla makes any forecasts for the state of Czech health with caution, as changes in societal attitudes will not happen overnight. “The lifestyle or healthy lifestyle is not only a question of information … is also a question of decisions and application and practice. It’s not enough to (only) have information, but it’s possible to change our motivation and it’s a very long practice and I think this process has started. But it will take a long time.” Whilst the NIPH worker believes the future looks brighter due to a gradual evolution in food and drink culture, you only need to look at the Czech Republic’s recent past to realise that this is only one of a number of issues confronting the nation today.

A fascinating topic enlightened by a fascinating woman, the likes of Dr. Nejedla means the Czech Republic’s state of national health has a fighting chance of changing for the better.

Leave a Reply