Despite Mediterranean Diet, Almost 50% of Israelis are Overweight or Obese

Please test your servants for ten days, giving us legumes to eat and water to drink. Daniel 1:12 (The Israel Bible™)

Almost half of all Israelis (4 million people) walk around with their bellies in front of them, according to the latest Social Survey of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, which said that 48% of the population is overweight or obese. Sixteen percent of Israelis are obese or morbidly obese. Men are fatter, with 55% of them overweight or obese, compared to “only” 41% of women.  

It’s not much to be proud of, but better than in the US, where nearly three-quarters of Americans – or 160 million people – have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25. This constitutes nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women. In addition, almost 30% of American children and teens are either obese or overweight, up from 19% in 1980.

Still, Israelis are an optimistic lot. Of those aged 20 and over, 84% said their health condition was “very good” or “good.” But 45% of those who were overweight and 35% of those who were obese or morbidly obese said their health was fine. Yet some 22% of those aged 21 and over smoke at least one cigarette per day!

Many Israelis realize, however, they have to lose weight. About half want to go on a diet. Even 31% of those with normal weight, 68% of those who are overweight and 87% who are obese or morbidly obese want to lose kilos. A little more than a third want to remain the same and 6% actually want to gain weight.

Women want to lose more kilos than men. Among those who have a normal weight, the proportion of women who want to lose is three times higher than men who want to. At any given time, 18% of the men and 24% of the women say they are on a diet.

Older people want to lose more weight more than those aged 20 to 44. Jews want to lose weight more than Arabs, even though many Arabs, especially women, are obese or morbidly obese.

Still, just 22% of Jews and 16% of Israeli Arabs who want to lose weight go to a clinical dietitian, even though the service is covered by the National Health Insurance system.

The healthful Mediterranean diet of fresh produce, fish, pulses (legumes), olive oil, grains and poultry is still more popular in Israel than in the US. Forty-four percent of Jews and 28% of Arabs in Israel eat at least three portions of vegetables and 45% of Israelis eat two or more portions of fruit per day. The elderly are even more likely to eat fruit. Almost a third of Israelis consume whole at least two portions of whole grains daily, but Arabs are more likely to do so (56%) compared to Israeli Jews (26%).  

Three-quarters of Israelis – Arabs more than Jews – eat olive oil on a regular basis, with 41% using it to cook and to fry.

Although consumption of colas and other sweetened drinks is much lower in Israel than in the US, 38% of the people here drink at least three glasses of sweetened beverages daily; 17% drink at least five glasses, even though drinking sweet beverages has been blamed for much of the obesity in the world.

Twenty-nine percent of Israelis eat fish at least twice a week – 34% of Jews and only 8% of the Arabs. The consumption of red meat – which is considered not conducive for health – is much lower here than in the US; only 26% of Israelis – 46% of Arabs and 21% of Jews – indulge at least three times a week. Jewish Israelis are twice as like as Arabs to study food labels to see what nutritional values are in processed food.

There are too few nurses and physicians in Israel. But while only 7.5% of the gross domestic product spent in Israel on health services, Israelis are healthier in general than Americans, who spend a whopping 17.9% of their GDP on healthcare. Israelis also live longer, with life expectancy at birth 84.6 years among females and 80.7 among males. This compares to 81.3 in American women and 76.3 years among American men.

The Social Survey is an annual poll that provides information on the living conditions and welfare of the adult population of Israel.