One in four children in Israel
is overweight, according to a first-of-its-kind Health Ministry report about the growth rates of more than one million children, which were compiled from schools across the country.
The report further reveals that the ultra-Orthodox and Bedouin populations, Israel's poorest populations, have a significantly high rate of children who are thinner and shorter than other kids their age.
Research conducted in recent years has revealed that 8-13% of children in Israel are overweight, but the data collected by the Health Ministry paint an even more concerning picture: A summary of the growth measures of school children in the past two years reveals that more than one-quarter of Israeli kids suffer from different levels of overweight.
The data were received by measuring children in the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth grades once during the school year. The values were registered into the computerized records of the Student Health Services, and each student's weight-for-age and height-for-age ratios were calculated using computerized software.
The growth measures were analyzed for five large populations: Jews studying in the state educational system and state-religious educational system, haredim, Arabs and Bedouins in southern Israel.
Growth estimates were conducted in the past two years for 1,102,021 students. The measures revealed that the total rate of school children suffering from overweight was 27%.
According to the report, the percentage of children who are overweight rises from 21.4% in first grade to 30.7% in fifth grade – almost one in three children. The rates stabilize between fifth and seventh grade, and drop to 27.2% in ninth grade.
The percentage of children suffering from an extremely low weight ranges from 2.4% to 5.5%. The highest rate of very slim children was found among the Bedouin (5.5%) and haredi (5.3%) populations.
The change in the growth patterns of haredi and Bedouin children is also reflected in the percentage of shorter and thinner school children within these populations, which increase with age – as opposed to the findings in other populations.
The report's authors – Dr. Lisa Rubin, Prof. Itamar Grotto, Mira Honovich, Dr. Ziva Stahl and Sarit Yaari – determine that the higher than expected rate of children with a low weight among Bedouins and haredim points to non-optimal growth among those populations.
"These two populations are the poorest in the State of Israel and have the highest number of children per family," the researchers write. "The high number of children in the family and the small age gaps between siblings may affect the children's growth.
"Possible explanations for the smaller overweight rates among the haredi population include more hours spent in school, less television time, lower use of cars and differences in nutrition."