In the spirit of the 2012 London Olympics, the Lancet published a study ranking countries according to their level of inactivity. Such a study is very relevant to our modern lifestyle, as it is has been indicated that lack of exercise is as dangerous to our health as smoking. Malta ranked first as the country that conducts the least physical activity, causing an online uproar by many Maltese people who felt their identity being dragged into the mud. Despite the fact that physical inactivity does pose a higher risk to our health, how REALLY unhealthy are Maltese people when compared to the rest of the world?
The following article has been doing the rounds on social media once again, sparking a renewed debate and an ensuing collection of infuriated Maltese people. Such individuals can find some reassurance in knowing that data can often be misleading, as it is highly subjective depending on the user’s interpretation. With this in mind, this blog post will set out to deconstruct this article’s rankings and give a better picture of how ‘laziness’ truly affect’s people’s health.
According to the NHS and The Lancet, lack of exercise is directly related to higher incidences of global deaths and major diseases including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Furthermore, The Lancet study also found that physical inactivity leads to at least one in ten deaths worldwide – or 5.3 million deaths out of 57 million.
These facts provide me with a very clear hypothesis to be tested: if Malta is the country that carries out the least amount of exercise worldwide, it should be the one that also ranks highest in deaths related to the above diseases, thereby reducing the life expectancy considerably. This theory will be tested through the use of the following table, which has been compiled with data obtained from http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/. The countries listed in this table are ranked according to the first column “Physical Inactivity World Rank”, which is the rank provided by the initial Lancet study. Countries were also colour coded according to their respective continents, as geographical distribution is an important factor to account in such a study.
Despite the fact that Malta is the ‘laziest’ in terms of physical activity, it appears to fare quite well when compared to other countries in terms of Coronary Heart disease and Type 2 diabetes (countries that rank worse than Malta are highlighted in grey). Figures for colon cancer are alarmingly quite high when compared to the other countries, but it should be noted that Colon cancer appears to be very common in Europe and other developed countries. This table also indicates average life expectancy at birth, but it should be noted that life expectancy is dependent on many other factors, mainly economic development – European countries are well developed and rank very high in terms of life expectancy.
The reality is that my initial hypothesis is not very accurate, but it cannot be entirely disproved. One needs to bear in mind that Malta has a good health care system that does allow people to manage and battle their diseases – at the expense of the tax payer. Despite the shameful rank, things could be far worse for the Maltese population in terms of these deadly diseases.
This still does not excuse the overwhelmingly nonchalant attitude towards physical exercise and sport in general. The reality is that on such an over densely populated island, there is very little and safe room were people can go for a daily suggested 30 minute brisk walk. It is also a very sad reality that sports in Malta are not seen as a possible career as they are in other countries – the vast majority of professional Maltese athletes have an actual ‘normal’ full time job, relegating their sport as something on the side or a hobby. This leads many young people to abandon their love and commitment for sport in exchange for a more focused education that will allow them to have a self sustaining career.
I take such an article as a good indication of the reality that many Maltese choose to ignore. Such is evident from the emotional and defensive responses they gave to this article – even though we are hard working, pay our mortgages, provide for our families etc. etc., Maltese people are physically lazy and not bothered about exercise. This is a far cry from previous generations that relied on physical activity as a means of labour/transport. However, such is the onset of economic prosperity in western countries – the richer we get, the more comfortable our lives become and the lazier and fatter we become!
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Keeping to the same topic, I came across the following article by a German blogger Andreas Moser, in which he indicated that one of the reasons for laziness is our ‘Culture and Heritage’, where he writes:
“Lastly, laziness seems to be embedded in Maltese culture. At the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, statues were discovered from around 3000 B.C. Even back then, the Maltese were already couch-potatoes“
While I agree with him on the first two reasons, I find the third one incredibly offensive and demeaning. In all fairness, a five month stint at living in Malta cannot begin to expose a foreigner to the rich breadth of culture the country has to offer – I personally have just started to fully grasp the London lifestyle after 2 years of residency!
While such a reaction to Mr Moser’s post may be seen as contradicting to the remarks I made on the emotional responses Maltese people had to The Lancet report, such uneducated remarks are unacceptable, even if meant to be amusing – especially from a self proclaimed “avid traveller” and culture lover.
Anyways, I’m off for that brisk walk now!