"The children mock me," says A., a ninth grader who weighs 107 kilograms. "I hardly participate in sports class, and I'm almost never invited to events and parties. That's what bothers me the most. I have been trying to lose weight for years and haven't always been very successful."
Now it turns out that A.'s situation is not unusual in the Israeli society. A new study conducted by Clalit Health Services reveals that one in 11 teenagers in Israel suffers from severe obesity.
The highest number of overweight adolescents was found in communities in the Sharon region and the Haifa district, and the lowest in the Dan district and the city of Petah Tikva.
In the past few years Israel has found itself in a very disappointing place on the list of countries with the highest levels of overweight. According to Health Ministry surveys, about half of the country's population – and one in five teenagers – is overweight.
But while most of these studies discuss overweight, the new research reveals troubling figures about a more serious phenomenon: Significant obesity, which 8.9% of Israeli teens suffer from. An obese child is defined as one whose weight is in the 95th percentile of the average male weight at his age level.
The study also reveals that obesity is more common among Israeli boys, with 10.7% of teenage boys suffering from severe obesity compared to 7.1% of teenage girls.
Obesity higher among disadvantaged populations
The research is based on data compiled from more than 230,000 adolescents aged 13 to 17 who are members of Clalit Health Services.
The study also found that the overweight rates are significantly high among disadvantaged populations: 11.5% among children from a low socioeconomic status, compared to 8.5% among children from a high socioeconomic background – a 34% difference.
The obesity rate recorded among teenage girls from a low socioeconomic status in the Tel Aviv district was 10.7% - almost double the obesity rate among teenage girls from a high socioeconomic background (5.9%).
A significant difference was found between teenage girls in the Sharon region as well – 12% among girls from a low socioeconomic background and 7% among girls from a high socioeconomic status.
"One of the main conclusions from this study is that our efforts must focus on intervention programs for populations of a low socioeconomic background, rather than settling for programs designed for the entire population," says Dr. Ran Balicer, director of the Clalit Research Institute and Health Policy Planning at Clalit Health Services.
"There is a variety of reasons why this phenomenon is more common among disadvantage populations, like calorie-rich food and less access to environmental infrastructure encouraging physical activity."
Orit Jacobson, director of Clalit's Community Health Division, adds that "the greatest influence for preventing this problematic phenomenon can be found outside the health establishment – in the education system, by promoting the availability of health food on all levels of society and advancing physical activity."
Eitan Glickman contributed to this report