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Carolexpat talks to us about the situations surrounding obesity in the Gulf Countries.  


The modern ‘Diseases of Civilisation’ have immersed themselves into the populations of the Gulf countries; heart disease, diabetes, hypertension …all sadly health problems related to obesity are found all over the Gulf region.

Obesité pays du Golfe2The Bedouin heritage was based on a healthy lifestyle and diet, which included the consumption of natural and simple products like dates and camel milk. Physical exercise was a part of life as hours were spent walking in the desert. Today, obesity has taken over as the fastest growing disease in the Gulf region with the onset of a westernized diet and lifestyle leading to the creation of fast food outlets in shopping malls. Kuwait leads with the sad reality of a 42% obesity rate followed by Saudi Arabia with 35% and the United Arab Emirates at 33% (according to a survey undertaken in 2004 and available here in French).

It would be wise to list the reasons for such a fast growing threat to the Gulf countries, only if to educate the population of the ever-looming hazard now lying at their doorstep.

  • The fast food revolution – packed with sugars and fats not seen in traditional foods
  • The general lack of exercise and sport in everyday life. With the exception of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, tradition restricts freedom of movement for women – especially so in Saudi Arabia. However, it would appear that tradition has been used as an excuse since many clubs, gyms and swimming pools for women only have appeared and would suggest an alternative to the shackles of tradition.
  • Lack of exercise, especially amongst children and adolescents. Unfortunately, modern technology has taken over as the favourite past-time. The preference now is to watch a virtual football match and chat on whatsapp.
  • The vast quantity of different foods now offered in shopping malls and supermarkets. In the Emirates all kinds of foods and products are readily available whether they are European or Asian. Temptation is high with fruit juices and yogurts full of fats and sugars consumed in vast quantities.
  • The large cities of the Gulf countries are only accessible by car and pedestrians are a rarity. Even for a short distance a car or taxi is essential.

The individual governments of the Gulf countries are aware of the problems and have launched several campaigns in the region to educate people of the risks. However, it will take years before the longer terms effects of obesity are realized.


Carolexpat (Carole Sahebzadah)
Islamabad, Pakistan
June 2016

Article proofread by Sally