Maltese teens have highest problem social media usage, WHO report finds

Among 13-year-olds, 20% of girls and 13% of boys are problematic social media users

Photo by Mazaya Annaptashafa
Photo by Mazaya Annaptashafa

Maltese teenagers have registered as having the highest problematic social media usage across the board, in an international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study published today by the WHO Regional Office for Europe. 

The study found that among 13-year-old olds, 20% of girls and 13% of boys were problematic social media users. The figures remained relatively similar for 15-year-olds with 18% of girls and 17% of boys labelled as problematic social media users. 11-year-olds ranked second. 

Overall 7% of adolescents were classified as problematic social media users, based on the Social Media Disorder Scale. Problematic social media use is characterized by addiction-like symptoms such as loss of control over one’s use of social media at the expense of other important life domains, including relationships with peers and parents, and hobbies. 

Most adolescents still felt satisfied with their lives, with an overall score of 7.8 out of 10. In general Maltese adolescents scored between 6.9 and 8 – with boys scoring higher across all age groups, a trend among most countries and regions. 

But the report also found a trend in Malta, that between 2014 and 2018, there was a decline in life satisfaction.   

The HBCS report compiled extensive data on the physical health, social relationships and mental well-being of 227,441 schoolchildren aged 11, 13 and 15, from 45 countries. 

“How we respond to this growing problem will echo for generations. Investing in young people by, for example, ensuring they have easy access to mental health services appropriate to their needs, will buy a triple dividend: bringing health, social and economic gains to today’s adolescents, tomorrow’s adults and future generations,” WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge said.  


In terms of weight, the study found that overall one in five adolescents (21%) were found to be overweight or obese. However, Malta had the highest levels in all three age groups, 11, 13 and 15 – in 2018 34% of girls and 44% of boys aged 11-year-olds were categorised as overweight or obese. In the same year, 35% of girls and 38% of boys aged 13-years-old were also found to be overweight or obese. Lastly, 30% of girls and 40% of boys aged 15-year-old were also found to be overweight or obese.  

The report also found that when it came to adolescents brushing their teeth at least twice a day, there was a higher prevalence among girls – with Malta having one of the lowest records of adolescents brushing their teeth at least twice a day. 

Daily vegetable intake was lowest in South European countries, with only 25% of Maltese adolescents registering that they ate vegetables every day – right behind Italy at 27% and Croatia at 28%. It found that between 2014 and 2018, the largest decrease seen among 15-year-old boys in Malta, dropping by 14%.  

In terms of sweet consumption between 2014 and 2018, Malta showed a consistent increase across all genders and age groups, the largest increase being among 15-year-old, especially boys.  

Malta, however, registered a large decrease in the consumption of soft drinks, with the report observing a decrease among 13-year-old boys, down by 16%.  

Sexual and reproductive health 

Across all countries, one in four 15-year-olds (25%) who had sex did not use either of the most effective contraceptive methods – a condom or a pill. This was seen higher on average in Malta, with 52%. 

The lowest prevalence of condom use was also found in Malta at 39%. Only 6% of sexually active girls used the pill in Malta. The highest levels of pill use were among girls in the Netherlands with 70%.  

Alcohol consumption   

When asked whether they had ever drunk alcohol in their lifetime, 16% of girls and 21% of boys aged 11 said they had in Malta. The figures were higher for 13-year-olds with 43% of girls and 38% of boys saying they had tried alcohol before. The figure than spiked to 63% of girls and 68% of boys in the 15-year-old age group. With Malta only seeing a slight increase between 2014 and 2018.  

Peer support and schoolwork pressure  

More than half of adolescents reported high support from their peers (65% girls and 55% boys). For social well-being, it is essential to have a good group of friends we can count on at the most difficult times. The report found in Malta across all age groups girls felt they had more support than boys. 70% of girls and 53% of boys aged 11 felt they had peer support. While 75% of girls and 50% of boys aged 13 felt they had peer support. And lastly, 70% of girls and 56% of boys aged 15 felt they had peer support.  

In terms of schoolwork pressure, over a third (36%) of adolescents reported feeling some or a lot of pressure from schoolwork. However, in Malta, the largest group was 15-year-old girls with 80% of them reporting they felt pressure in comparison to 62% of boys.  

The report also found that Malta had a relatively low level of school satisfaction among the same age group with only 25% of girls and 22% of boys feeling satisfied with their education.