Strong link between poverty and healthy lifestyle
17 October– International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
57.2% of Belgians exercise weekly. However, there are big differences: 37.7% of Belgians at risk of poverty or social exclusion say they exercise weekly. Among Belgians who are not in a precarious situation, 61.6% report exercising on a weekly basis. This is according to new results published by Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The figures come from the 2022 survey on income and living conditions (EU-SILC), in which more than 6,500 Belgian households were questioned about their income, living conditions and health. Besides exercise, questions were also asked about the consumption of vegetables, fruit, alcohol, tobacco and electronic cigarettes.
People at risk of poverty are less likely to exercise on a weekly basis
Compared to 57.2% of Belgians who exercise weekly, 42.8% of Belgians exercise less frequently (7.8%) or never (35%). People who exercise weekly are slightly more likely to be men (60.1%) than women (54.2%). It is also remarkable that employed people (62.7%) are more likely to exercise weekly than the unemployed (46.6%), pensioners (52.6%) and other inactive people (50.6%). Striking differences emerge when poverty indicators are taken into account:
- The proportion of people who exercise weekly increases as income rises. Very specifically, we see that 40.2% of those from the lowest incomes exercise weekly, rising to 71.2% of those from the highest incomes.
- 39.1% of people at risk of monetary poverty (AROP) exercise weekly, compared to 59.8% of those who are not at risk of monetary poverty.
- 36.9% of people living in a household with low work intensity (LWI) exercise at least once a week, compared to 62.2% of the non-LWI group.
- 23% of people who face severe material and social deprivation (SMSD) exercise weekly, compared to 59.1% of the non-SMSD population.
- 37.7% of people who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) exercise weekly. For people who are not in such vulnerable situations, the percentage is at 61.6%.
Also differences between population groups in fruit and vegetable consumption
The health module in the SILC 2022 also included questions regarding the fruit and vegetable consumption of Belgians aged 16 and over. While 61.1% of Belgians eat fruit once or several times a day, it is less than once a week or never for 7.7% of Belgians. Women (66.8% daily) also have a higher consumption than men (55.3% daily). That of the highly-skilled (67.5% daily) is also higher than that of the low-skilled (54% daily), and that of pensioners (68.1% daily) and employed (61.3% daily) is higher than that of the unemployed (45.7% daily). There are also strong differences according to age, with 56.4% of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 eating fruit at least once a day, compared to 68.4% of those over 65. Moreover, a difference according to poverty status is also noticeable here:
- 53.8% of people at risk of monetary poverty eat fruit daily, compared to 62.3% of those who are not at risk of monetary poverty.
- 42.1% of those living in households with low work intensity consume fruit at least once a day, compared to 61% in the other households.
- SMSD status: 34.4% of those with insufficient financial resources to be able to afford a common standard of living eat fruit daily, compared to 62.7% of those who are not in this precarious situation.
- Whereas 50.2% of AROPE individuals eat fruit daily, this rises to 63.6% for the non-AROPE group.
Vegetable consumption figures are higher: 79.7% of Belgians eat vegetables every day, compared to 1.1% who eat them less than once a week or never. Consumption is, yet again, higher among women (82.5%) than among men (76.9%), higher among the highly-skilled (87.3%) than among the low-skilled (70%), and higher among the employed (82.2%) and retired (84.3%) than among the unemployed (60.8%). The gap according to poverty status is also present:
- AROP: 65% of people in the AROP group eat vegetables daily, compared to 81.9% of people in the non-AROP group.
- LWI: 55% of people in the LWI group eat vegetables daily, compared to 81.5% of people in the non-LWI group.
- SMSD: 49.7% of people in the SMSD group eat vegetables daily, compared to 81.4% of people in the non-SMSD group.
- AROPE: 62.8% of people in the AROPE group eat vegetables daily, compared to 83.6% of people in the non-AROPE group.
More than a quarter of Belgians do not drink alcohol
Alcohol consumption was also surveyed. More than a quarter of the population (27.5%) aged 16 and over does not drink alcohol at all, while 9.4% consume it daily. For 28.7%, it is several times a week, and for 20.9%, it is several times a month. Finally, 13.5% of the population drinks alcohol several times a year. Once again, there are clear differences:
- Men are more likely to drink alcohol daily than women (12.8% versus 6.1%), and abstain less (22% versus 32.8%).
- Pensioners (17.3%) and the unemployed (12.2%) are more likely to drink alcohol daily than the employed (7.2%), but at the same time, the unemployed (42.7%) are also more likely to be teetotallers than pensioners (26.5%) and the employed (19.4%).
Regarding daily consumption, there is hardly any difference according to income. The figures fluctuate between 7.5% (4th income quintile) and 10.6% (2nd income quintile). Then again, income differences do exist when it comes to abstainers. The higher the income, the lower the proportion of teetotallers: 47.3% of those from the lowest incomes do not drink alcohol, compared to 13.4% of those from the highest incomes.
According to the poverty indicators AROP, LWI, SMSD and AROPE, there is virtually no difference in daily alcohol consumption between people in or outside the risk group. There are distinct differences among abstainers: 49.7% of people in the AROP group does not drink alcohol at all, compared to 24.1% of people in the non-AROP group. For LWI, the figures are similar at 51.5% and 24.2% respectively; as is the case for SMSD (54.9% and 25.9% respectively). Finally, the figures also show that 48.6% of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion do not drink alcohol at all, compared to 22.6% of those who are not at such risk.
More than four-fifths of Belgians do not use tobacco and electronic cigarettes
Consumption of tobacco and electronic cigarettes looks completely different: 83.3% of Belgians do not use them, while 14.3% consume them daily. Higher consumption stands out among the unemployed (28.8%), renters (24.5%), the low-skilled (20.6%), single people (20.3%), the lowest-income (20.3%), the 50-64-year-olds (18.2%) and men (17.9%).
Again, there is a link to the poverty situation:
- 20% of people at risk of monetary poverty use tobacco products or electronic cigarettes daily, compared to 13.4% of those who are not at risk of monetary poverty.
- 29.9% of those living in a household with low work intensity consume it daily, compared to 14.2% of those not in that situation.
- For severe material and social deprivation, it is 35.4% of the SMSD group and 13% of the others.
- 23.8% of Belgians at risk of poverty or social exclusion use tobacco products or electronic cigarettes daily, compared to 12.1% of those who are not at risk.
An important note about all these figures is that they do not pretend that a less healthy lifestyle leads to poverty, or that poverty leads to a less healthy lifestyle. No causal claims can be made based on these figures, only a correlation can be established.
 Definitions of these indicators are available on the Statbel website.