Arab teens are healthier than Jewish counterparts

Health Ministry survey shows ‘devastating’ addiction to sugar, salt, saturated fat.

December 5, 2016 22:56
4 minute read.
EATING HABITS acquired in youth help determine those habits in years to come.

EATING HABITS acquired in youth help determine those habits in years to come.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The health and nutritional condition of Arab middle- school and high-school students is better than that of their Jewish counterparts, but more Arab students go to bed hungry.

These are some of the findings in the Health Ministry’s 2015- 2016 MABAT survey on teens from grades seven through 12 issued on Sunday.

The previous survey of this age group was for the 2003 to 2004 school year. (MABAT is the Hebrew acronym for health and nutrition condition.) More Arab students eat some kind of breakfast, fewer smoke cigarettes or hookahs and fewer eat while watching TV or while using computers or smartphones.

However, 9% of boys and 7.2% of girls in the Arab sector go to sleep hungry, compared to 5.2% of Jewish boys and 5.6% of Jewish girls who do so.

The group studied was divided roughly in half between male and female students in some 1,500 intermediate and senior high schools. Of those, 3,548 were Jewish and 2,045 were Arab students.

All the pupils in the study were surveyed in person by representatives of the Health Ministry’s Center for Diseases Control.

The teens were asked about their eating habits, whether and how much they exercised, and if they smoked cigarettes or water pipes (also known as nargilas or hookahs).

Their weight, height, body mass index, hip and mid-arm circumferences were measured.

They were also asked about their body image, food allergies and knowledge about nutrition and health. They were asked about what they ate regularly and what they specifically ate on the day before the interview.

The survey included youngsters in state and national religious intermediate and senior high schools – Jewish, Arab, Druse and Beduin – but not in ultra-Orthodox, private or dormitory schools.

Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, commenting on the findings, said good nutrition among children is a national goal, because eating habits acquired in youth help determine eating habits in the years to come.

Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who headed the committee, said the “figures in the survey speak for themselves. The addiction to sugar, salt and saturated fat in children is devastating. Everyone deserves to have a healthful lifestyle.”

“We have great responsibility as parents and a society,” he said, not mentioning the differences between Arabs and Jews.

Litzman said: “I believe that education and prevention can reduce morbidity [disease] in the country, and it begins with children. I intend to do everything I can to implement the [recent] recommendations of the public committee for better nutrition, and I see all segments of the economy joining this effort.”

When asked if they ate some kind of breakfast, 86.4% of Jewish boys and 76.2% of Jewish girls in middle schools and 82.1% of Jewish boys and 69.9% of Jewish girls in senior high schools said yes. That compared to 95.6% of Arab boys and 90.8% of Arab girls in middle schools and 93.1% of Arab boys and 86.4% of Arab girls in senior high schools.

As for eating away from home, weekly consumption of junk food outside the home was slightly higher for Arab teens than for their Jewish counterparts.

Eleven percent of Israeli senior high-school girls were vegetarian, compared with 2.3% of boys. A decade ago, the respective numbers were 13.5% and 5.3%.

As for tobacco consumption, 2.3% of Israeli boys and 1% of girls in middle schools admitted to smoking cigarettes, and 3.6% of boys and 1.8% of girls in middle schools smoke hookahs; in the upper grades, 13% of boys and 5% of girls admitted to lighting up, compared with 17.1% of the boys and 8.4% of girls smoking hookahs.

Water pipes are considered by health authorities to be even more dangerous than cigarettes and present a greater risk because of the longer amount of time they are smoked.

Looking at the various sectors for cigarettes, 7% of Jewish boys and 4.1% of Jewish girls in all the relevant grades smoked, compared with 6% of Arab boys and 0.3% of Arab girls; 8.2% of Arab boys and 1.4% of Arab girls, compared with 9.6% of Jewish boys and 6.5% of Jewish girls, admitted to smoking water pipes, even though the “tradition” of this type of tobacco consumption emanates from Arab and other eastern cultures.

A total of 39.4% of Jewish boys and 30.3% of Jewish girls drank alcohol in the past year (not including for Jewish ritual purposes), compared with 21.3% of Arab boys and 14.6% of Arab girls, despite cultural and religious traditions prevalent among much of the Arab sector.

Weight is a problem in both sectors. A total of 5.6% of Jewish boys and 3.7% of Jewish girls were underweight; 69.8% of Jewish boys and 72.3% of Jewish girls were normal weight; 16.2% of Jewish boys and 16.7% of Jewish girls were overweight; 8.4% of Jewish boys and 7.3% of Jewish girls were obese.

Among Arab pupils, 3.4% of Arab boys and 3.2% of Arab girls were underweight; 64.3% of Arab boys and 70.5% of Arab girls were normal weight; 17.4% of Arab boys and 17.2% of Arab girls were overweight; 15% of Arab boys and 9.2% of Arab girls were obese. Jewish boys and girls were a bit more likely to be happy with their weights than their Arab counterparts.

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