Nearly half of all Maltese 11-and-12-year-olds are overweight or obese, a study has revealed.

More than a quarter of those surveyed – 27 per cent – are overweight while around 18 per cent are obese, the study by researcher Andrew Decelis shows.

Published in the European Journal of Sports Science, the study of 234 children looked into levels of physical activity and sedentary time of tweens, a term used to describe children aged between eight and 12. It was also authored by Russell Jago and Kenneth Fox.

The low levels of activity and high levels of sedentary behaviour among Maltese children confirmed Maltese girls and boys are “very” overweight and obese, reflecting studies among children in the UK and US.

The study shows boys are more physically active but more sedentary than girls. Only 7.4 per cent of boys and 1.1 per cent of girls in this category were active for the recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Students completed a questionnaire that asked whether they walked to school, the hours spent watching television, playing on a computer or a games console, and their sports activities during and after school, among other things.

The children also wore an accelerometer, a small gadget worn on an adjustable belt that can be strapped around the waist. It records the frequency, intensity and duration of physical activity and the amount of sedentary time throughout the day.

Although there are more overweight girls – 28 per cent – compared with boys, (25 per cent), the rate of obese boys – 20 per cent – is higher than girls, (17 per cent).

The study highlights “significant gender differences” in physical activity until 7 p.m. with almost 15 per cent of girls walking to and from school while only two per cent of boys walk to school.

A total of 85 per cent of boys watch between two and four hours of TV a day, while 71 per cent of girls tune in for less than two hours.

Almost 73 per cent of boys and 68 per cent of girls spend between one and three hours a day playing on a computer. Around 26 per cent of boys and 18 per cent of girls spend more than three hours on a computer.

Boys who are not overweight are the most active with 43 minutes of exercise per day, while those who are overweight undertake 33 minutes. The obese children do less than half-an-hour a day.

Ironically, overweight girls are slightly more active than their slimmer peers with just over 27 minutes a day.

A high percentage of obese boys and overweight girls said that they never took part in sport or exercise clubs after school hours.

The study pointed out that weekend activity is lower, probably because weekdays were more structured due to school training.

The activity statistics were comparable to those of British children but unlike their peers obese Maltese children are less active during the day.

“This implies that even during curriculum time, which includes physical education in Maltese schools, children of different weights are behaving differently,” according to the study.

During break time, children might be taking part in different levels of physical activity and obese children might not be encouraged to take part in intra-school tournaments.

The results suggest the need to provide more opportunities for overweight and obese ­children throughout the week with a particular emphasis on physical activity during school hours.

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