A recent survey by Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union (EU), revealed that British people are the fattest in Europe.
According to the data, 23.9 percent of British women are obese -- as defined by a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 30 -– while 22.1 percent of British men are fat.
That’s not surprising, given the poor diet, heavy drinking and lack of exercise that characterize modern life in what Prime Minister David Cameron calls ‘broken Britain.’
However, what surprised me about the EU report was that the people of Malta were also alarmingly overweight.
Malta is a group of islands only 60 miles south of Sicily, and 180 miles from North Africa -- hence, I would have thought they would adhere to a healthy Mediterranean diet, blessed by warm sunshine like Italy.
But while Italians are generally slim and healthy (only 9.3 percent of women and 11.3 percent of men are obese there, among the lowest levels in the EU).
The numbers for Malta are 21.1 percent for women (second highest in Europe) and 24.7 percent for men (the highest for the continent).
According to the Maltese ministry of health, the island has a serious obesity problem.
In 2010, 36.3 percent of adults were overweight and another 22.3 were obese. Among youths, a shocking 15 percent of 13-year-olds were obese.
According to another report by the EU, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Health Organization, 29.5 percent of Maltese children aged 11-15 were either overweight or obese, far higher than the EU average.
The Maltese ministry of health has stated: “Obesity in Malta is indeed a major public health challenge and the rates of obesity amongst both adults and children are a cause of grave concern. The trend for persons to be overweight and obese will seriously undermine all efforts in the past to overcome non-communicable diseases unless strong and concerted action is taken.”
The ministry added: “We encourage the population to improve one’s dietary habits by following the healthy Mediterranean diet, encourage breastfeeding, weight loss and the management of diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure which are often co morbid conditions also present with obesity.”
The problem has been building for years.
A blog connected with American University in Washington DC wrote a few years back: “Until recently, Malta's location kept it guarded from the influence of other cultures, but that is changing. New technology has begun to make the islands of Malta easier to access. This has led to increased trade and urbanization throughout the country. While this brings more tourism and other economic opportunities to Malta, it is also affecting the culture and lifestyle of the people in Malta.”
The blog added: “Urbanization has led to a decrease in physical activity and an increase in the consumption of oil and sugar based foods in many parts of the world. This is expected to have a significant effect on the rise of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The World Health Organization is calling obesity a global epidemic. The Mediterranean, particularly Malta, has seen a significant increase in number of overweight and obese citizens. With over 60% of its population either overweight or obese, Malta has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world and it is escalating.”
Moreover, the government has warned that: “the consumption of foods based on oil and sugar has risen dramatically in response to lower costs and greater availability. The Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that diets will continue this trend away from traditional foods toward processed foods with high calorie density.”
Thus, it would appear that globalization has claimed another victim -- the people of Malta have apparently abandoned their traditional healthy diet for the high-fat, high-sugar fast food favored by many countries in Western Europe and the United States.