The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the world’s healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally.
Maybe it’s the Viking heritage. There is an icy open-air pool in the waters of Copenhagen’s harbour, and although it is mid-winter Danes still jump in every day. On the front cover of the city’s health plan, a lean older man is pictured climbing out, dripping, his mouth open in a shout that could be horror or pleasure. “Enjoy life, Copenhageners,” urges the caption.
It’s not every Copenhagener who wants to take strenuous exercise in cold water either for fun or to get fit. But the packed bike lanes of the Danish capital, even at this sometimes subzero time of year, are testimony to the success of a city that is aspiring to be one of the healthiest in the world. Copenhagen consistently sits at the very top of the UN’s happiness index and is one of the star performers in the Healthy Cities initiative of the World Health Organisation, which, almost unknown and unsung, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The initiative was the idea of a group of individuals inspired by the Alma Ata Declaration of 1978, which was about elevating the status of primary care and public health in a world where everybody equated healthcare with hospital treatment after you got ill.