Israeli Health Ministry Ignores Arabs in Nutrition Campaigns, NGO Claims

According to Health Ministry figures, children in Israel's Arab community consume more sweetened drinks than their Jewish counterparts. Child obesity is also more severe in the Arab community.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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A screenshot from a Health Ministry promotional video promoting healthy eating.
A screenshot from a Health Ministry promotional video promoting healthy eating.Credit: YouTube Screenshot
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Health Ministry’s campaigns over the past few years promoting nutrition have skipped over Arab citizens, according to the NGO Citizens for the Environment.

For example, the home page of the Health Ministry’s website has nutritional recommendations in Arabic for the recent Jewish holiday of Shavuot and during the Ramadan month of fasting. However, there is no information in Arabic about the damage that can be caused by sugar, salt or processed food.

Moreover, the ministry’s flagship nutritional campaign has not been translated into Arabic at all, nor does it contain content tailored to the Arab population.

In a letter to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the chairwoman of Citizens for the Environment chairwoman, attorney Jameela Hardel Wachim, wrote: “Exclusion of the Arab public from programs to promote healthy nutrition and from explanatory materials on that subject, especially for children, leaves this community behind as far as changes in nutrition and consumption, and consequently also leaves it sicker, and the figures already show.”

According to Health Ministry figures recently published in TheMarker, children in Israel’s Arab community consume more sweetened drinks than their Jewish counterparts — 51 percent of Arab children between the ages of 11 and 15 drink at least one sweetened beverage a day, compared to 45 percent of Jewish boys and 41 percent of Jewish girls in that age group.

United Torah Judaism Chair Yaakov Litzman.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Child obesity is also more severe in the Arab community. According to the figures, nearly 40 percent of Arab seventh-graders are overweight, compared to 30 percent of seventh graders in the Jewish population.

None of the Health Ministry films promoting healthy eating have been translated into Arabic.

“As the mother of two daughters I deal with the problem personally, and the lack of explanatory information in the language my daughters can understand makes things very difficult,” Hardel Wachim said. “My girls, ages 3 and 9, like most of the Arab children, are not exposed at all to the films the Health Ministry has produced in recent years, especially about the damage of salt, sugar and processed foods,” she added.

Because the information is not found in Arabic in schools or the media, children could greatly benefit from these Health Ministry films is they were translated, because they are very influenced by what they see on YouTube and social media, Hardel Wachim said.

“We don’t have another Health Ministry, and it is the ministry’s obligation to provide its services equally to the entire population,” she said.

The lack of information available in Arabic on health issues is apparently symptomatic of a broader malaise.

A search of the Israel Government Advertising Agency shows that from among all the advertising campaigns the agency implements for various government ministries, none are in Arabic. In the category of health and the environment, for example, there are 15 campaigns, all in Hebrew only.

In 2015, investment in Arabic media was 3.5 percent, up from 4.2 percent in 2014. The Health Ministry does not have a spokesman in Arabic or a liaison to work with Arab-language media.

The Health Ministry responded that it does have campaigns in Arabic, including its flagship nutrition campaign, with a number of Arab communities participating in a pilot project of that campaign. According to the ministry, since January 2016, out of 99 ads placed in newspapers, 23 ads on healthy eating were placed in Arabic-language weekend newspapers. The ministry said its information on sugared drinks was translated into Arabic and published on YouTube but the clip has not yet been posted on the ministry’s website. The ministry has recently approved two positions for Arabic speakers on the subject of public health.

However, according to experts on media in the Arab community, the ads in three weekend Arabic-language newspapers do not convey the message in an age of electronic and social media, and so such an investment is minimal and lacking impact.

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