During the session Dr. V. Farrugia Sant’ Angelo presented the local scenario in terms of Malta’s ranking in adult and childhood obesity with a special focus on the latter.  She discussed data from a local study which was held in Primary School Children.  Maltese boys aged between 11-13 years have ranked first for obesity worldwide!

It is estimated that there are 22 million overweight children in the EU, 5.1 million of which require medical treatment.  Every year there is an increase of 1.2 million  more overweight children and 400,000 more classified as obese.  The cost of obesity amounts to 150 billion euros in healthcare costs and loss of productivity, still rising. There is an urgent need to stop what is now termed the “snow ball effect”.

To add to all this there is the economic burden on the country.  It is estimated that Malta spent 2-4% of its healthcare budget treating obesity and in general obese patients cost 30% more than any other patient admitted to hospital.

Following that Ms. M. Ellul emphasised on the importance of following a Mediterranean diet discouraging fad diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates.  Decreased carbohydrate intake in children may be detrimental to brain development and function as well as stunting their growth.  She also gave a good overview of the importance of following the food pyramid and more importantly pharmacists need to ocnvey this to their patients.  Unfortunately the hectic lifestyle as well as the increased cost of healthy food such as fruit, vegetables, fish etc… put people on the lower income class more susceptible towards becoming obese.

The aim is to go towards a holistic approach and improve the lifestyle of children from an early age.  This is what drives the message home that we need to improve on our type of food consumption mainly by eating fish at least 2-3 times per week as well as increase daily intake of Fruit and Vegetables (F&V).  EU statistics show that  Malta has an average total daily average intake of F&V of 487g/day.  Although this is higher than the average of 350g/day, Malta still lags behind other EU Member States (MS) such as Spain (554g/day), Italy (586g/day), Greece (834g/day) and Cyprus (749g/day).  Our level of consumption is close to that of Denmark, Poland and France.  Certainly lifestyle, price, availability and taste might offer an explanation to the figures.

Furthermore, it is recommended that children do some form of exercise for 90 minutes per day.  It may be simply playing on the school grounds or riding a bicycle in a playing field.  In addition, children need to spend less and less time looking at the TV.  It is recommended that children should not spend more than 1 hour per day watching or playing in front of the TV.  These are not easy goals to achieve in reality as today both parents generally work plus the academic demand from the schools is ever increasing not to mention the after school extra-curricular activities children get engaged in.

Dr. Mariella Borg Buontempo explained how Health promotion is in the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health.  As a matter of fact it organises fitness classes for adults in the various health centres all over the island.  Interested people should be advised to enquire at the Health Promotion Department.  With regards to children there are plans to set up a clinic consisting of a multidisciplinary team to help children lose weight.

The Health Promotion Unit on a national level has launched a Non-Communicable Disease Strategy and a Cancer Strategy and is about to launch a National Obesity Strategy which is in its draft version.  It is of utmost importance to engage all stakeholders.  The awareness campaign “Frott u Haxix – 5 Trid Tghodd” is ongoing and it is hoped that this drives the right message home to Maltese citizens making them realize that we need to go back to a Mediterranean diet away from fast food chains.

Speakers at this event were Dr. Victoria Farrugia Sant’ Angelo, Medical Co-Ordinator Primary Child Health & National Immunisation Service, Primary Health Department and Ms. Maria Ellul, Public Health Nutritionist, Directorate for Public Health Regulation.  Dr. Mariella Borg Buontempo from the Directorate of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Ministry of Health, Elderly and Community Care was also in attendance and gave an insight on the National strategies and goals in place to prevent overcome this phenomenon.

The presentations below are available to download with kind permission from the authors.  It is strictly prohibited to reproduce in whole or in part before obtaining prior approval from the authors.

Childhood Obesity in the Maltese Islands

Facing up to the Childhood Obesity Pandemic

This event was supported by