It seems widespread concerns about health are no longer exclusive to Western nations like the United States, which has struggled to manage its obesity epidemic in recent decades. As recently modernized or modernizing countries throughout the world embrace new lifestyles, they’re increasingly faced with the consequences that can accompany modern living: poor health.
As reported by Al Jazeera, today almost forty percent of adults around the world are considered overweight or obese. The Arab Health Magazine reports that a new study finds 58% of men and 65% of women in the Middle East and North Africa are overweight or obese; the study tracked the percentage of overweight and obese individuals in these regions over the course of thirty years, and observed a significant increase in obesity levels in this duration of time. The International Diabetes Federation also reports that 37 million people in the Middle East and North Africa are living with type 2 diabetes; the IDF expects this number will double over the course of the next 20 years.
International health industry professional Hussain al Nowais, who frequently does business in the United Arab Emirates, finds the region’s rising rates of obesity troubling, noting that healthcare systems may be challenged to adapt to the increasing prevalence of diseases and disorders caused by obesity. However, while obesity may be on the rise, many officials in the Middle East are striving to reverse this trend.
On March 31st, leaders in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi participated in the country’s first-ever healthy living walk, called “Let’s Walk,” as part of an initiative to help children become more active. As The National reports, the Vice President of Dubai has stated that the national government is heavily invested in the health and well-being of the UAE’s children, and has created a Healthy Children 2021 campaign to help the UAE become one of the world’s most advanced countries by the year 2021. Specifically, UAE officials hope to decrease childhood obesity by 12% by this date. As of 2013, approximately 1/3 of children in the UAE were overweight or obese.
The UAE stands out as a leader in health initiatives in the Gulf region, the region most affected by obesity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to government-sponsored events like Let’s Walk, the UAE has also set up biking paths, water sports, and volleyball nets on its beaches to promote more active recreation, and has implemented a policy of regular health testing to encourage early detection of diseases. The UAE has also restricted the number of carbonated beverages that can be sold in the country, and has created a nationwide health database to more effectively and efficiently track patient data and identify health trends.
Many like Hussain al Nowais believe that the UAE’s proactive response to its obesity epidemic will set a precedent throughout the rest of the region for leadership to take action as well. As the UAE pulls ahead in science, technology, investment, and all things related to building a knowledge-based economy, it’s astutely recognized that the health of its people will be critical to its overall success as well.
While reducing childhood obesity by 12% in less than ten years’ time may be a lofty goal, if any country in the Middle East has the determination and resources to accomplish such, it’s the UAE.