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Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 17 May 2009
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Reality 2030

I love Malta and I also love Sicily, but I also believe that what Tomasi di Lampedusa says about the Sicilians in his masterpiece The Leopard is also a good definition of us Maltese: “the Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect; their vanity is stronger than their misery; every invasion by outsiders, whether so by origin or, if Sicilian, by independence of spirit, upsets their illusion of achieved perfection, risks disturbing their satisfied waiting for nothing; having been trampled on by a dozen different peoples, they think they have an imperial past which gives them a right to a grand funeral.”
According to the PN government we are well on our way to becoming a centre of excellence by 2015 in Financial Services, ICT, Tourism, Education, Manufacturing, Health and turning Gozo into an ecological island. Vision 2015 is less than six years away. Are we really on the verge of achieving excellence in these seven areas?
Let us have a look at the health of our children and do a simple reality check. A recent study carried out by the International Journal of Obesity concluded that a third of our children below the age of five who live in the south of Malta suffer from obesity. This study shows that obesity, apart from increasing the cholesterol levels in our children and raising their blood pressure, will kill them through diabetes, strokes, heart attacks or different types of cancer and will cost at least €70 million as health care for those who do not die prematurely.
The World Health Organization warned us at least seven years ago that our children are among the most obese in the world. Other studies carried out in the European Union show that while other member states have about two to 3% of their population suffering from diabetes, the rate in Malta is 10%. Seven years ago we had local top health officials saying that the situation was not alarming although the warning signs were not to be ignored. In the last seven years the situation has got worse. The worst way to deal with a problem is not to acknowledge that you have a problem. Government’s complacency has made things worse.
International surveys show that at least 60% of us are obese or overweight. After every report comes out, we kick up some fuss, a number of articles are written, TV and radio stations produce some programmes about it, a few grand political statements are uttered and then it is back to normal. No preventive health strategies are planned and implemented. No action plans are drawn up to address the obesity problem. Image management is more important than substantial policies so more money is spent on publicity than on practical measures to solve the problem.
A survey carried out among 10 to 16-year-olds in 34 countries shows that our young people are the most obese in the world. A World Health Organization study also shows that our teenagers are among the most stressed in the world and have mental health problems. A recent study conducted in European schools shows that our young people are indulging more in binge drinking of alcohol and are smoking more (alcohol-related brain damage due to binge drinking among young people accounts for 25% of dementia and Alzheimer sufferers in the UK).
Our children between the age of seven and eleven are the most obese in the European Union as they eat more sweets and consume more soft drinks. Worse than that, only a quarter of our children exercise themselves physically regularly. More than half of the three-quarters who do not do any physical exercise, spend three to four hours in front of the computer or television set, not moving. The same study recommends at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. They are enough to help us improve out physical and mental health. Most of our schools institutionalise the lack of sports and physical activity. For many years we have been saying that our students should have more sports during school but nothing happens.
Our children also have very few opportunities during school where they celebrate their artistic talents by singing, painting, dancing or acting. If we do not take our children regularly to museums, libraries, theatres, art exhibitions and concerts and ensure that these are stimulating experiences for them and not just a break from the usual boring school days, how do we expect them to grow up into young people who will enjoy going to the theatre, libraries, art centres and involve themselves actively in our cultural life?
Most of our young people do not have rich cultural and leisure activities in their free time. We have created a desert for them and we give them only the mirages of binge drinking, smoking, drugs and gambling to satisfy them. And while abandoning them to unscrupulous operators in the entertainment, drinking, drug and gambling industry we sanctimoniously condemn them for having no moral values and for being selfish, short sighted and only interested in instant gratification.
Piles and piles of reports, year after year, have been trying to wake us up and address these serious problems, but to no avail; which reminds me of another quote by the Prince of Salina in The Leopard: “Sicily wanted to sleep in spite of their invocations, for why should she listen to them if she herself is rich, if she’s wise, if she’s civilised, if she’s honest, if she’s admired and envied by all, if, in a word, she’s perfect?”

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