Professor Pekka Puska
2019 Dr. Ancel Keys Inaugural Award
Professor Pekka Puska was the Director General of the National Institute for Health and
Welfare in Finland (THL) 2009–2013. Recently (2017-2019) he served as a Member of
the national Parliament of Finland, including the Health and Social Affairs Committee
and of the Education Committee of the Parliament.
Professor Puska continues also his affiliation with THL. THL is a comprehensive
national institute for public health and welfare under Ministry of Health in Finland. It
covers a broad range of health and welfare issues from disease prevention, nutrition,
lifestyles and environment, infectious disease control and national vaccination programs
to health and social services, health and welfare monitoring and statistics. THL was
formed after a merger of the National Public Health Institute (KTL) and the National
Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (Stakes), and started its
work in January 2009. Before THL Professor Puska was the Director General of KTL
Professor Puska has, for most of his career, worked at KTL/THL. He was, for 25 years,
the Director and Principal Investigator of the North Karelia Project: prevention of
cardiovascular diseases in North Karelia and later on in all Finland. Within 25 years,
over 80% decline in annual heart disease mortality among the working age population
and a dramatic general improvement in public health took place. The project is widely
seen as a model for successful population based prevention of cardiovascular and other
non-communicable diseases (NCD).
In 2001-2003 Professor Puska served as the Director for Non-communicable Disease
Prevention and Health Promotion at the World Health Organization Headquarters in
Geneva. At WHO, Pekka Puska directed the work on integrated prevention of NCD
targeting the main risk factors (tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity) through
health promotion, national programs, policy measures and regional networks. Professor
Puska’s Department was the focal point of this work that culminated in adoption of the
Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health by the World Health Assembly in
2004. Recently (2015-16) he chaired the Independent Expert Group for he Impact
Assessment of the WHO/FCTC.
Professor Puska has, internationally and domestically, served in a number of scientific,
expert and public health functions, WHO’s work, multinational projects, international
conferences etc. He has over 500 scientific publications.
Internationally, Professor Puska is the past President of the International Association of
National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI). He has also served as the Chair of the
Governing Council of the WHO International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) and
as the President of the World Heart Federation.
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