Israel's Health Ministry says ultra-Orthodox Jews are seven times more likely to be obese than all others."The haredi lifestyle focuses on the dinner table…At the same time, they don't engage in any physical exercise."
'Haredi sector suffers from obesity'
Health Ministry, Dairy Board launch joint campaign aimed at fighting overweight phenomenon among ultra-Orthodox. 'The problem is seven times worse in the haredi sector than among seculars'
Ari Galahar • Ynet
The Health Ministry has determined that there are more overweight people in the ultra-Orthodox sector than in the secular one.
Yair Amikam, the ministry's deputy director-general for information and international relations, recently launched a joint campaign with the Dairy Board aimed at fighting obesity among haredim.
Amikam stressed in a letter to the chairman of the ministerial Tender Committee that "the problem is seven times worse in the haredi sector than among seculars."
At first, Amikam stated, the Dairy Board and ministry would work to raise awareness to the issue among children and teenagers. The campaign was to be brought to the sector's members through a haredi radio children's show.
The campaign's cost was estimated at NIS 130,000 (about $36,000), divided between the different activities of the Dairy Board and Health Ministry.
"The haredi lifestyle focuses on the dinner table," explains Shifra Krimolovsky, the campaign's initiator. "Haredim eat and celebrate a lot. When a baby boy is born in the general sector there is just a circumcision ceremony, while the haredi sector holds different social events which include a lot of food.
"At the same time, they don't engage in any physical exercise. This is the reason we are launching a campaign which will begin with the children, with the aim of getting the mothers to learn about proper eating habits and physical activity."
Besides poor cooking choices, no practical health education in haredi schools, and lack of exercise, another factor strongly impacts the haredi rate: poverty.
In developed countries, poor populations are more likely to be fat than others.
Because lower calorie, higher nutrition foods cost too much money to be eaten regularly.
Fresh non-root vegetables, meats, and fish cost much more than potatoes, pasta, and rice. And fast food is almost always significantly cheaper than healthier restaurant fare.
The poor eat a diet that is higher in bad fats, lower in protein and almost devoid of all vegetables except potatoes – and Israeli haredim are disproportionately poor due their rabbis' decision to bar most haredi men from the workforce.
As more haredim enter the workforce, some of the economic issues that drive obesity will be reduced.
But any society in the developed world that has 7 to 8 children per family and has no disproportionate wealth will be disproportionately obese and unhealthy.
Only government policies that lower the prices of healthy food and raise the prices of some unhealthy food will change that.