Vice Country: Israeli Youth Lead the World in Almost Everything They Shouldn't

50 percent of 11-year-olds spend over 2 hours a day on the computer; alcohol consumption also high.

Israeli students aged 11 years old on average send e-mails, surf the Web and play computer games more than any of their peers in the world, according to data gathered for the World Health Organization.

The Education Ministry recently published the data it compiled for the WHO that puts Israeli 11-year-olds in first place in terms of computer usage. Israeli youths aged 13 and 15 are also among the most frequent computer users in their age groups in the world.

The study was carried out in 2006 and its findings were only recently released. It examined a long list of categories including the pupils' health, social welfare and wellbeing of youths at risk in over 40 countries including the U.S., Canada and most of Europe.

Some 204,000 pupils around the world took part in the study, including 5,350 Israelis. The study coincided with an anti-drug campaign organized by the Ministry of Education. Questionnaires also gathered information on consumption of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes among adolescents.

About 50 percent of 11-year-olds in Israel spend over two hours a day on the computer, the highest percentage in the world. About 39 percent of children in second-place Estonia spend over two hours a day on the computer. The world average of children spending over two hours on the computer daily is 23 percent.

The number of hours spent using the computer rose together with the age of the participants in the survey: Over 57 percent of 15-year-olds in Israel spend more than two hours in front of the computer a day and are fifth in the world in that category.

Israeli children are avid computer game users with over 57 percent of children dedicating more than two hours a day to that activity alone.

Israeli children also love communicating with their friends digitally. Data showed they frequently send emails and are among the highest senders of SMS messages from their cellular phones. Israeli 11-year-olds are ranked fourth in the world in that category while 13- and 15-year-olds are fifth.

Yet this may not be good news for parents or children. The report tied heavy usage of communication technology with a tendency to neglect homework and household chores.

"Intensive use of technology and other media is connected, among other things, to lack of sleep, hostility, obesity and, paradoxically, to feeling socially alienated," the report stated.

On the flipside, the study showed the use of technology to communicate improved the children's grades at school and overall cognitive abilities.

In its report, the WHO warns that increased use of computers reduces the amount of physical activity carried out by children and is one of the chief causes for obesity. Television, another form of activity linked to obesity and atrophy, is another cause for concern. Israeli 11-year-olds are ranked fifth in terms of the number of hours spent watching TV and second in the consumption of sweetened beverages.

At the same time, 11-year-olds in Israel engage in less sports activities then two-thirds of their peers in other countries, the survey showed.

Statistics showed a relatively high amount of Israeli children, nine percent of girls and 19 percent of boys, consume alcohol on a weekly basis, placing Israel in second place behind Ukraine. However, Jewish ritual, which stipulates every member of the household drink a sip of wine on the Sabbath, may have distorted the figures. Indeed, the proportion of youths that consume alcohol in comparison to other countries in Israel drops significantly as their age increases.

Hitting the kiddush wine

"Europe and the U.S. have for years been dealing with their youths drinking problems, a phenomenon that is becoming more common in Israel too in recent years," said Galia Shaham, a senior official at the Ministry of Education. "As a response we've decided to tackle the subject in fifth grade and also talk about smoking prevention in sixth grade. The data requires us to start and dealing with these issues at an early age."

Some 900 elementary school teachers have been trained on ways to teach prevention of smoking, drinking and drug usage among children.

"It's hard to take on the youth's drinking problems because its done outside of school," Shaham explained. "The Ministry of Education has some influence but families have much more. That's why we always try and enlist parents in our programs."

Migraines are also more common among Israeli children than others: 11-year-old Israelis were more prone to complain about headaches than any other of their peer groups in the world. Some 30 percent, more than double the world average, said they suffered from migraines. "Complaints about headaches, nervousness or insomnia are considered international indicators showing whether or not youth deal with stress properly," the report stated.