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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Israeli cabinet approves NIS 265 million program to fight obesity

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On Monday, Israel's socio-economic cabinet unanimously approved an interministerial program to promote a healthy lifestyle in Israel, focused on preventing and reducing obesity. The proposal is expected to come into effect within two weeks.

The plan's numerous recommendations include amending a 1994 law requiring prospective gym members to obtain a physician's approval before signing up; new members would instead be asked to fill out and sign a declaration of fitness.

The program supports lowering the minimum age for working out with free weights, resistance machines and aerobic exercise machines in gyms from age 18 to age 14. It calls for the Ministry of Culture and Sport to expand the general public's access to athletic facilities in educational institutions and other public buildings - including courts, playing fields and auditoriums - when they are not in use by students.

The new plan presents several different approaches for improving the average Israeli's diet. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will promote the development of hybrid species of fruits and vegetables that are bred for unusually high nutrient density, with very high levels of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. The Education Ministry is to see to the enforcement of existing restrictions on selling foods with low nutritive values in school vending machines and cafeterias. The Finance Ministry will be asked to consider expanding the items for which workplaces can claim tax deductions as "refreshments" to include fresh produce as well as the traditional high-fat cakes and sweet or savory pastries.

Another provision in the program would give priority in the state-subsidized "basket" of health goods and services to the introduction of drugs targeting lifestyle diseases. There is also a proposal to restrict television ads for high-calorie foods during peak viewing hours for children.

The estimated cost of the program for the next four years is NIS 265 million, with the lion's share - NIS 153.5 million - coming from the Health Ministry, and the remainder from the ministries of agriculture, education, culture and sport.