The Middle East Tries to Cure Its Biggest Obesity Epidemic Yet

DietObesity among children and adults in the UAE has risen to alarming rates in the last few years. In April, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, as well as other government officials, led the “Lets Walk” march to raise awareness about obesity.

The march was part of the Healthy Children 2021 campaign, with the goal to reduce obesity rate down to 12% of the population by 2021.

About 9.7% of the Middle Eastern and North African population – about 37 million individuals – have diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. That is excluding 50% of undiagnosed cases. IDF projects a twofold increase within the next two decades.

“Good food and sedentary lifestyle”

Many locals believe that the main contributory factor to diabetes and obesity is the country’s good food and sedentary lifestyle.

“[There’s] this luxurious lifestyle, especially in this country. We are not very active, generally there’s air conditioned atmosphere, we’re doing work on the computers…watching TV,” says Shahzad Ahmed, a mid-forty resident who was extremely obese, hypertensive and a near diabetic, but eventually got on the right track.

He adds that people can eat anything, anywhere. Their social gatherings revolve around feasts. Whether in family or office meetings, there is always an abundance of food on the table.

This has led to the frequency of obesity and diabetes. Worse, 10% of affected individuals are unaware that they have it. Diabetes has two types: Type One, also known as juvenile diabetes, occurs when there is insufficient insulin in the body.

The more common type, Type Two, develops due to high blood glucose levels. IDF explains that a healthier diet and more active lifestyle can prevent or delay its development.

UAE to get more active

Alarmed by the continuous inflation of the epidemic, country leaders have taken up initiatives to create long-term solutions, starting with promotion of physical activities and sports. They have built running and biking paths, volleyball nets, and water sports to motivate everyone to exert and burn calories.

Social communities and non-profit organizations conduct sports events and competitions. In 2012, they held the mHealth Grand Tour, a fund-raising marathon aimed to promote diabetes awareness. It took 15 days to finish, covering four countries, where participants endured and raced through mountains and rain storms.

The sports industry in the country is also currently flourishing. Fitness gyms cater to all kinds of sports – yoga, wall-climbing, running gymnastics, Crossfit workout, canoeing. Other platforms provide participants with access to more “outdoor” excursions, such as camel racing, car rallying, horse riding and racing, skiing, outdoor rock-climbing and many others.

With raised awareness, coupled with healthy practices, UAE has high hopes that the Healthy Children 2021 would soon turn into a reality.