Obesity levels dangerously high in Gulf; Warns WOF report

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
  • Follow author on
Obesity Image

Obesity rates have hit a record high in the Gulf region, a recent study has warned.

At least one third of women and one quarter of men in the region are now listed as excessively overweight.

The findings were revealed in the World Obesity Federation (WOF) regional data review, which blamed medics and health authorities for not treating weight issues as a priority. Measured data relied on a sample of the population who had their weight and height measured.

In the UAE, 31 percent of UAE women and 25 percent of men are obese. Meanwhile data about children showed that 17% of girls and 6% of boys aged 5-19 are obese.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait 

Similar levels of obesity were recorded in Saudi Arabia by WOF, where 31 percent of men and 42 percent of women were obese along with 20 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls.

33 percent of men and 46 percent of women were found to be obese in Kuwait. With one in five girls and one in four boys reporting obesity, the country had some of the region’s highest rates of childhood obesity.

Cause for Concern

It is crucial for Gulf nations to take hold of the health issue and this is possible by acknowledging obesity as a chronic, progressive and relapsing condition, the data added.

During the coronavirus pandemic, lowering the numbers has become an even more pressing concern as doctors have confirmed that overweight patients experienced worse symptoms.

Experts called for greater training commitments and policies that reduce discrimination and stigma associated with weight.

Dr Donna Ryan, former WOF president, said that Gulf healthcare communities should act immediately to resolve the issues posed in the study.

“The region is well positioned to address this major public health problem,” she said. “It has good systems already in place, highly qualified health leaders and a commitment to improving the lives of local people.”

A more systematic approach to patient assessment, moving beyond the accepted Body Mass Index (BMI) and adopting the Edmonton Staged Approach is another key guideline proposed. Edmonton Staged Approach incorporates other well-being criteria, including mental wellbeing.

The report also defined solutions that should be delivered through patient care at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

In a three-day program later this year, more than 1,000 doctors and health practitioners will discuss these results.

Successful UAE initiatives to tackle the issue

The UAE is showing signs of improvement, said the co-author Dr Sara Suliman who is a consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi.

“Standardizing care for patients with obesity will help in recognition of obesity as a disease,” she said. “It will provide a framework for appropriate management of obesity to try and prevent as well as manage long-term complications.”

Experts also noted that a number of UAE initiatives have already been successful in improving attitudes.

A 50 percent tax on all carbonated drinks was enforced in 2017 and a 100 percent tax on energy drinks, both of which were celebrated as a positive move.

Other examples of change were the School Canteen Guideline in Abu Dhabi and the national labeling of pre-packaged food items using a traffic light-based system.

The ‘Mutabah’ system of the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP) which is an online system for collecting student data on overweight and obesity, was noted in the study, as was an Abu Dhabi initiative to reduce food sugar content by 20 percent.

Ma’kom, another MoHP project, concentrated on four areas of change to minimize obesity.
The scheme included a junior chef campaign, a healthy lunchbox education program and a voluntary healthy restaurant system in order to support a balanced diet.

A healthy workplace campaign, a school-based program and a mobile app to inspire kids to follow healthy lifestyles have also been launched.

Meanwhile, by encouraging an active lifestyle and healthier eating habits, a 10-week ‘Lose to Win’ initiative promoted childhood weight management.

Experts say that since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, more people have been inquiring about weight loss procedures. There is a normalization of obesity and a large chunk of people belonging to the age group of 18-25 are obese. It is important to realize that rapid weight gain causes a lot of problems in a day-to-day and long term basis.

World Obesity Federation

The World Obesity Federation (World Obesity), formerly the International Association for the Study of Obesity and the International Obesity Task Force, is the only global organization focused exclusively on obesity. It is a lead partner to global agencies on obesity, including the World Health Organization (WHO).