Study: One in Five Israelis Overweight

Shopping in Yerushalayim’s Machaneh Yehudah market. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

About one in five Israelis are overweight or obese due to poor eating habits, a report said. The report was presented at a Ramat Gan conference on nutrition, and was based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics and health maintenance organizations (kupot cholim), as well as several private agencies that work with the public on health issues.

In terms of overweight population, Israel fares better than many other OECD countries. A total of 19 percent of Israelis are overweight, while in the U.S., that figure is 38.2 percent. The least overweight country is Japan, where just 3.7 percent of the population is too fat. One reason for that, the report said, is because the average Israeli eats more fruits and vegetables than residents of other OECD countries.

As in other places, overweight has a clear connection to income level. There was a higher percentage of overweight in Israelis who lived in households below the median income, with some four out of five overweight in some of the lower socio-economic levels. Experts attributed that to the consumption of cheap carbohydrates by poorer people (foods rife with sugar, processed white wheat) who cannot afford the more expensive higher-quality carbohydrates and proteins.

Soon to take effect will be a Health Ministry plan under which manufactured food products will soon sport green and red labels – the former for products that are considered healthful, and the latter for foods that consumers should avoid altogether, or consume with great caution. According to the new rules, foods that include any of the following – 300 or more calories per 100-gram (3-ounce) serving, 500 mg of sodium and/or 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams, or 5 grams of saturated fat per 100-gram serving – would get a “red” mark, meaning that consumers should avoid and/or significantly limit their intake. Foods that fit in with recommendations of the Health Ministry, such as having no added sugar, would get a “green” mark.

Several weeks ago, the Ministry announced that it is considering banning products that contain trans-fats, a main ingredient in many baked goods that utilize commercially produced vegetable-based oils. Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Health Committee, Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that “we are raising a generation of obese children who will not be able to manage in the army or in the workplace. If we do not do something today, it will be the ruin of the Israeli economy.”

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