The Middle East is definitely obese!

According to a recent study that gathered private data and trends among 188 countries, it was found that more than 58% of the men and more than 65% of women across the Middle East and North Africa suffer from either overweight or obesity in 2013. More than three-quarters of the countries in the region have seen their rates of overweight and obesity increasing by more than 50% for both men and women. Altogether, there are 259 million people suffering from obesity or overweight in the Middle East. 180 million people are actually overweight and 79 million people suffer from obesity.

The study was published under the name “Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013”*. It was conducted by the Health Metrics and Evaluation Institute (IHME) at the University of Washington and published in The Lancet on May 28th, 2014.

According to the study, the prevalence of overweight and obesity of adults in North Africa and the Middle East increased from about 53% to 62% during the study period. In 2013, the prevalence of overweight and obesity rate among men was almost 59%, while it was higher among women, approaching 66%. In this region, Kuwait has the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults in general.

During the 33 years of research, many Middle East countries showed a large increase in global obesity rates, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. The top three countries in terms of increasing prevalence of obesity among men in 2013 are Qatar (44%), Kuwait (43%) and Bahrain (31%). The rate of obesity among women exceeded 50% in three countries in the Middle East, which are Kuwait (59%), Libya (57%) and Qatar (55%).

In most countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, rates of overweight and obesity reached more than 50% in both men and women.

Overweight and obesity are some of the major health issues for children in the Middle East and North Africa. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the region among children dramatically increased from approximately 19% to 25% during the study period, making the region occupy the third place in terms of regional spread of obesity and overweight in 2013.

The top three countries in terms of increasing prevalence of overweight or obesity among girls are Kuwait (46%), Oman (42%) and Libya (42%). The countries with the highest rates among boys are Qatar (34%), Libya (33%) and Lebanon (33%).

In Egypt, approximately one-third of boys and 40% of girls suffer from either overweight or obesity. Approximately 40% of Saudi girls also suffer from overweight or obesity. And it is the same situation for nearly a quarter of boys.

What should we do to fight obesity?

The World Health Organization defines overweight and obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health” stating that “The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended”.

Governments at all levels should act on the problem of obesity as they do to counter an outbreak of infectious disease or to protect the population of a toxic substance in the environment. They had to pass legislation to reduce smoking, as they were also right to mandate the wearing of seatbelts. The current situation of excess weight in the population has developed over several decades, especially because our environment has become absolutely unhealthy. Slowing weight gain and reversing the situation cannot be done in a few years. The impacts of these actions will certainly take place gradually. An annual improvement, however small it may be, will result in health benefits and considerable long-term economic benefits for the entire society.

By taking measures to promote the health of the population, governments play their role, which is not limited to looking after people who already became ill. Diseases caused by tobacco are in decline, deaths caused by drunk driving too. These successes are largely due to government policies and, of course, citizens who supported them. It will be the same for the obesity epidemic.