The Malta Independent 27 June 2019, Thursday

Almost a third of Malta’s population is obese – World Health Organisation report

Thursday, 13 September 2018, 12:37 Last update: about 11 months ago

Malta has one of the highest and most worrying rates of obesity, standing at 29.8%, a report by the World Health Organisation published yesterday found.

The report concluded that while life expectancy in Europe has continued to increase, it risks being reversed by increases in obesity and in the proportion of people who are overweight. 

The average life expectancy in the European region in fact has increased from 76.7 years in 2010 to 77.8 years in 2015. Women continue to live longer than men - 81.1 years compared to 74.6 years for men, although the gap has slightly narrowed.

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Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's director for Europe however warned that "lifestyle-related risk factors give cause for concern, as they may slow or even reverse the great gains in life expectancy if left unchecked."

The report said that, "Overweight and obesity are on an upward trend in almost all member states."  Indeed the report found that in 2016, 23.3% of people in the region were obese, up 2.5 percentage points in six years, while 58.7% were overweight, up 2.8 points.

The WHO’s definition of obesity is someone with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, meaning more than 87 kilograms for someone measuring 1.7 metres (5.5 feet).

It cited Malta as one of the countries with a particular problem in obesity, saying that 29.8% of the population is obese.  Only Turkey ranked higher in this rate, with 39.8% of the country’s female population being obese, whilst Britain also registered a high obesity rate, at 27.8%.

Furthermore, the report found that there were higher rates of obesity in Maltese children and adolescents.  Whilst the rate of obesity for the whole population was found to be 29.8%, the rate of obesity for 11 year olds was found to be 38% for boys and 32% for girls.  The rate decreases slightly as the age surveyed increases; the report calculated the BMI index of 13 year olds and 15 year olds as well and found that in the former category 36% of boys and 33% of girls were obese; whilst in the latter category 34% of boys and 26% of girls were obese.

Life-style related risk factors also included smoking and alcohol consumption, and the report found that the European rates of tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption were the highest globally.

In terms of smoking, the WHO found that the prevalence of tobacco smoking in Malta among people aged 15 and over was fairly average when compared to other countries.  Indeed, the report found that 25.9% of Maltese over the age of 15 smoke.  The highest prevalence of tobacco smoking meanwhile was found in Greece (43.4%) and the lowest in Uzbekistan (13.3%) and Iceland (17.5%).

Alcohol consumption in Europe meanwhile, which had been rising between 1990 and 2000, has steadily declined since 2008, but remains high, with 8.6 litres per person per year in 2014, compared to 6.4 litres per person globally.

In the European Union, the highest consumption is recorded in Lithuania (15.2 litres/person), the Czech Republic (12.7 L/p) and Belgium (12.6 L/p).  Malta’s consumption rate is right on the European average, standing at 8.5 litres per person, the report found.

The report, which is published by WHO every three years, reflects on the effect that the Health 2020 policy has had on the Region.  The WHO said that the report is “a useful source of information for policy-makers throughout the Region, and helps them identify areas that need further assessment and policy action at the national level.”

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