A woman smokes a cigarette as she sits on a bench in Liverpool, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Liverpool, Britain, May 26, 2020 (photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)

‘Too little exercise, too much obesity and smoking’- health survey

Israeli adults of all ages do not get a very good report card from the Health Ministry, in its fourth national health survey released on Tuesday.

The survey, published by the ministry’s National Center for Disease Control and based on data collected between 2018 and 2020, is compiled to help authorities formulate appropriate health policies for the population.

A total of 4,135 residents aged 21 and over were interviewed by telephone, of whom 2,710 were Jews (including others such as non-Arab Christians and residents for whom no religion is defined) and 1,425 were Arabs. The respondents were divided equally between men and women.

About two-thirds of Israelis fail to exercise as recommended by experts, and more than half admitted that they are overweight or obese.

The overweight and obesity rate in Israel is high compared to many other Western countries. Only 29.8% of the Jews and 26.3% of the Arabs complied with the recommendations, which are to engage in aerobic physical activity at medium intensity for at least 150 cumulative minutes per week or 75 minutes per week at high intensity. In addition, a person should strengthen their body muscles at least twice a week.

Israelis exercis at an outdoor gym by the beach on a hot summer day, in Tel Aviv, on July 28, 2020 (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

It is estimated that lack of physical activity is the main cause of about 23% cases of breast and colon cancer, 27% of diabetes and 30% of coronary heart disease.

Overweightness vs. Obesity

Overweight and obesity rates are measured according to the body mass index (BMI: body weight divided by the square of the height in meters). Overweight is defined when the BMI is between 25 and less than 30, while obesity is defined by a BMI equal to or higher than 30.

According to the survey, 56% of the general population are overweight and obese. This rate is higher among Arabs (61.3%) compared to Jews (54.8%). Arab men presented the highest obesity and overweight rate: almost two-thirds of them (65.9%).

In addition, an adapted program was created to treat obesity in Arab society, and dietitians were sent to well-baby clinics (tipat halav – a drop of milk) in the Arab sector, providing training to parents to raise awareness of a healthful lifestyle.

To reduce overweight and obesity, the ministry expanded its Efsharibari (“It is possible to be healthy”) program to encourage a healthful lifestyle and initiated many moves including the labeling of harmful foods, taxing sugary drinks, promoting the new food pyramid and more.

Detecting cancer

IN ADDITION, during the year before the survey, only two out of five men and women aged 50 to 74 years underwent occult blood tests through their health fund to detect colon cancer. According to the survey, only 38% of Arabs in this age group tested themselves compared to 52% of the Jews.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in Israel. The origin of most tumors is a benign polyp that becomes malignant. Early detection of the disease significantly improves the chances of recovery and survival, so occult blood tests are very important.

According to ministry data, some 27,000 Israelis are diagnosed with invasive cancer of all kinds every year, and about 12,000 people die from cancer. Since 1999, cancer has surpassed heart disease as the number-one cause of death in the population.

One in five Israelis smokes, and the rate among Arabs was higher (24.4%) compared to Jews (19.1%). The highest rate of smoking is among Arab men (38.2%), 1.7 times that of Jewish men (22.6%).

The ministry said that since it regards smoking cessation as very important, in recent years it has expanded tobacco regulations to include electronic cigarettes, banned advertisements in electronic media and restricted the marketing of tobacco and smoking products. It also expanded the restrictions on smoking in public places and carried out publicity campaigns to raise awareness of the harm caused by active and passive smoking.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance and benefits of telemedicine services, which may bring about a change for the better in the quality and accessibility of health services provided to the insured under the increased efficiency and lower costs for the health system.

The use of remote medicine services was found to be higher among Jews than Arabs, with 69.1% of the Jews who were surveyed and 44.5% of the Arab interviewees using the Internet to make an appointment (for a doctor or for an examination).

Jews were even farther ahead than Arabs in data regarding online requests to renew prescriptions for regular medications (more than double: 39% vs 19.2%) and referrals to services in hospitals and other institutions.

The data complement the broader picture beyond data regarding the level of service in the health system and online health services for the years 2021-2022 conducted by the ministry and Jerusalem’s Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute.

Almost two-thirds (66%) of health insurance policyholders used the Internet to view their personal information, 55% of them made an inquiry through the website or app and 44% conducted a phone visit via video or chat with professionals. The ministry said it encourages the expansion of telemedicine services and calls for studies to examine and evaluate their usefulness.

“The survey’s goals are to provide information on the health status of the adult population in Israel as a basis for setting policy, identifying trends and optimizing the allocation of resources in the fields of health,” according to National Center for Disease Control director Prof. Lital Keinan-Boker.

“It also presents an estimate of the prevalence of self-reported diseases and chronic conditions, and helps us evaluate the use of health services and examine healthful behavior patterns.”

“The survey’s goals are to provide information on the health status of the adult population in Israel as a basis for setting policy, identifying trends and optimizing the allocation of resources in the fields of health.”

Prof. Lital Keinan-Boker

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