by Manuel Attard M.Sc RD Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist
Although Mediterranean, the food habits of the Maltese are closer to a British Anglo-Saxon one (Tessier & Gerber, 2005). The Maltese diet can be described by a high consumption of cereals, mainly pasta and traditional Maltese bread, dairy products, eggs and sugar (especially from soft-drinks). Meat consumption is dominated by red meat with a high proportion of processed meats including corned beef and luncheon meat; fish consumption is low compared to meat (Mizzi, 1995).
A national survey carried out in 2003 has found that fresh milk is the type of milk most commonly consumed (46.06%); Maltese bread (white) is the most common kind of cereal consumed, with a mean of 2.2 slices per person per day; the type of fat used most often for food preparation at home is not olive oil (38.87%) but rather other vegetable oil (52.55%); 47% answered that they add salt to meals during cooking ‘almost always’ and 23.73% ‘almost always’ add salt to meals at the table (Department of Health Information, 2003). In a study comparing two generations (mothers and daughters), it was found that cheese consumption increased significantly in recent years (+49%), with cheddar being the most common cheese consumed (Tessier & Gerber, 2005).
The below figure, taken from the First National Health Interview Survey (2003), provides a good idea of what the Maltese typically consume:
Nutritional Status and Prevalence of Chronic Diseases in Malta
An unbalanced diet, together with a sedentary lifestyle, is believed to be the cause of the increasing incidence of non-communicable disease in the Maltese population. The leading causes of mortality in Malta are ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, which together comprised 37% of mortality causes in 2002 (World Health Organization, 2006). Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases are high: 22.1% of Maltese are hypertensive (Ministry for Social Policy, 2008), 8.88% have high cholesterol levels and 7.10% are diabetic (Department of Health Information, 2003). Recently it has been found that Malta has the highest rates of childhood obesity (10-16 year olds) in the world (25.4% pre-obese and 7.9% obese) (Janssen et al., 2005), that the Maltese have the highest average BMI (26.6) in Europe, and that among Europeans, Maltese were the least inclined to go for a ten minute walk (European Commission, 2008). Interestingly, the same study found that Maltese were also the likeliest to believe that they eat “very good” for their health (44%); with a further 43% believing that they eat “good”.
This is an excerpt taken from my research entitled: Assessment of the Nutritional Knowledge of Maltese Adults (Manuel Attard – 2010)
Department of Health Information. (2003). The First National Health Interview Survey (Summary Statistics). Valletta: Department of Health Information.
European Commision. (2008, May 27). Eurobarometer 246. Retrieved June 20, 2010, from http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_246_en.pdf.
Janssen, I., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Boyce, W. F., Vereecken, C., Mulvihill, C., Roberts, C., et al. (2005). Comparison of overweight and obesity prevalence in school-aged youth from 34 countries and their relationships with physical activity and dietary patterns. Obesity Reviews , 6, 123-132.
Ministry for Social Policy. (2008). European Health Interview Survey 2008 Summary Statistics. Valletta: Department of Health Information and Research.
Mizzi, L. (1995). Food and Nutrition Policy in Malta. Food Policy , 20 (6), 475-486.
Tessier, S., & Gerber, M. (2005). Factors determining the nutrition transition in two Mediterranean islands: Sardinia and Malta. Public Health Nutrition , 8 (8), 1286-1292.
World Health Organization. (2006). Mortality Country Fact Sheet (Malta). Retrieved June 25, 2010, from World Health Statistics 2006: http://www.who.int/entity/healthinfo/statistics/bodgbddeathdalyestimates.xls