Report finds obesity on the rise among Israelis, but smoking levels steady

Increasing numbers of adults are overweight but child obesity rate fell significantly in recent years; separate report shows slight increase in number of people diagnosed with HIV

Illustrative photo of overweight people hiking at the Wingate institute in Israel. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of overweight people hiking at the Wingate institute in Israel. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israeli obesity rates are on the increase, with 62 percent of men and 55% of women aged 20-64 overweight as of 2018, according to a report released Sunday by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy and Health Services Research (NIHP).

These numbers mark a significant increase over those released last September by the Central Bureau of Statistics, which showed that 55% of men and 41% of women were overweight.

According to the new research, socioeconomic status is correlated significantly with obesity rates — around a quarter of men of low socioeconomic status struggled with obesity as opposed to 16.8% of men with a high socioeconomic status.

This also held true for women, with one third of women of low socioeconomic status suffering from obesity as opposed to 15.5% of those considered to be of high socioeconomic status.

A man walks into a McDonald’s restaurant in central Jerusalem, on April 13, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Despite increases in the adult obesity rate, however, the NIHP report showed that childhood obesity is on the way down, with 6.9% of children reported to be significantly overweight. This is a slight drop of 7%-8% over previous years.

The NIHP also found that around 20% of Israelis aged 16-74 smoke, a figure that  appears to be in line with figures provided by the Health Ministry earlier this year, which reported that about one-fifth, or 19.8 percent, of adult Israelis over age 21 are smokers. According to the NIHP, smoking rates also correspond to socioeconomic status, with men of low status smoking around twice as much as their high status counterparts. Arab and Haredi women were reported to have lower smoking rates.

These figures did not account for the use of e-cigarettes.

Israelis smoking and drinking. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The report stated that smoking rates remained relatively high despite recent efforts by legislators to stub out the habit among Israelis and claims by the Health Ministry that smokers are increasingly looking to quit. According to the ministry, 2% of smokers, or 24,865 people, applied for treatments to stop smoking this year, nearly double the figure in 2010.

The fight against smoking has seen several sweeping changes in policy and law in recent years. Earlier this year, the Knesset passed into law new restrictions on advertising. Tobacco products cannot be advertised on Israeli internet sites, television or in public buildings. Ads are limited to print media only. A directive last year made smoking illegal in public entertainment venues, such as amusement parks and sports stadiums.

In line with with global trends, the smoking rate in Israel fell from about 45 percent in the early 1980s to about 20 percent or less in the years since 2011. In 2016, that number rose to 22.5% before dropping back to around 20% in subsequent years.

The NIHP also reported that while vaccination rates remain high, there has been a drop in the flu vaccination rate among those over the age of 65, with only 60.5% of those in this age cohort being vaccinated in 2018, down from 63.1% in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday a slight increase in the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Israel. According to the outlet, 2018 saw 427 cases, compared to 399 cases among those aged 15 or older the previous year.

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